Have you ever had a dream for so long that it never stopped bugging you until you decided to just do it? For me, it has always been Kilimanjaro. I had wanted to climb this epic mountain ever since my father did it in October 1999. There really had not been any dream or travel goal that I have had for that long.

Like most dreams, there have been many obstacles and road blocks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my decades-long dream became a reality.  I had wanted to make this climb special and have it be somewhat similar to my life-changing trip to Nepal. Serendipitously I was connected with the U.S.-based non-profit Solar Sister, an organization that provides solar electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. For their fifth year anniversary, an international team was planning to climb Kilimanjaro in June of 2015.  Each climber was required to raise $4,000 to support the hiring and training for 8 new solar sister employees in Africa and to celebrate the success of Solar Sisters, we would climb Kilimanjaro together as a multigenerational, international team. It was a perfect opportunity and I seized it. Looking back today, it was even better than I ever dreamed it would be. It was truly epic. Figuring out what on earth to do next after such an incredible climb will be the challenge.

Why go?

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.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

For me personally, I had grown up hiking, and climbing Kilimanjaro had been a long-term goal of mine after seeing my dad’s photos of his own climb back in 1999. I also desperately wanted to get there soon before the snow that caps the top of this mighty beast and makes it so stunning, is gone forever. Some scientists predict that the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro will be gone as early as 2030. What a tragedy!

What Route to choose?

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.

Total Length of Hike: 62 miles (100 km) up and 24 miles (38 km) down.

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia)

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia). Our route was the Machame colored in brown.

Who to go with?

This is where it gets tricky. I tend to always try to use locally-based travel companies because the majority of the money generated by the trip goes back into the community as opposed to an international corporation. Since I was joining a team for this trip, I went along with their guide (who was great but American). However, our guide worked directly with locally-based Zara Tanzania Adventures in Tanzania so the remainder of our team (including additional guides, porters, and cooks) were all locals. While there are a ton of international and responsible outfitters to chose from (for a complete list, check out these recommended ones from the Adventure Travel Association here), I would still recommend to go directly local as it really makes a positive impact on the local economy and also you learn a lot more about the culture. I personally tried to spend as much time I could talking with the Tanzanian guides and porters.

Zara Tanzania Adventures has successfully hosted visitors in East Africa since 1986 and has evolved into one of Tanzania’s largest Kilimanjaro outfitters. They are locally own and employ all local Tanzanians at fair wages.  Besides Kilimanjaro, Zara Tanzania Adventures also organizes trips to climb neighboring Mount Meru, and safaris in all Tanzanian National parks and wilderness areas. I even hired them to do a rice fields trek adjacent to their hotel, the Springlands Hotel where we stayed before and after the Kilimanjaro climb. I like the work they do as well to give back to the community. To learn more, check out there website: Zara Tanzania Adventures.

When to go?

There are two distinct trekking seasons: January-March and June-October. June marks the high season for Kilimanjaro climbs given the normally dry and warmer climate and of course summer vacation for many trekkers. January may be a little less crowded but is colder and there is a higher chance that there will be snow on top of the summit. We went in early July and the weather was perfect.

What to pack/gear?

I found an excellent gear list here by the Climb Kilimanjaro Guide. It is very detailed and broken down by clothing, head gear, hands, feet, sleeping and packs. The only thing I would add to this list is a pair of waterproof lightweight rain pants (it does mention rain gear but I can’t stress enough the importance of the pants). Also, my sleeping bag was not warm enough. Some of our group rented sleeping bags at the hotel through Zara Tours, and the bags were enormous and warm. If you are having a porter help carry your luggage (as we did) then I’d recommend renting a bag in Tanzania if that service is available by your tour outfitter. It saves a lot of space in your luggage too. I’d also bring a sleeping bag liner. Another tip we did on the cold nights is fill up our water bottles with hot water and placed them down by our feet inside our sleeping bags. It gets very very cold so it is best to be prepared.

I did have a solar charger for my phone by finding any service is difficult. I did use it however to charge my phone for photos when I didn’t want to deal with my camera. It also was helpful as it has a flashlight on it that I could use for evening runs to the toilet tent. (Warning: All the tents look alike so it is best to bring a flashlight in the dark so you can find the correct one!).

The Climb

Day 1: Climb to Machame Camp

The first day of the climb on the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro is a relatively easy 4-6 hour walk (depending on speed) ascending through lush tropical rainforest filled with Podocarpus trees, vine-like lianas, tree ferns and nettles. The trail is well-maintained yet can be muddy given the high levels of rain this part of the mountain receives. The thick foliage provides a verdant canopy letting in little light except tree-filtered rays of the sun. It is absolutely serene.

We left along with several other large groups of climbers and their teams. Our group of nine climbers had four guides, and about 25 others as our support staff, all local Tanzanians who were being paid as either porters, cooks or waiters. Since the entire Machame Route is camping only, everything we needed for the entire week had to be carried which required a large support team. Tents for us as well as the support staff, a cooking tent, a “kitchen” tent, two “toilet” tents and all our food and cooking supplies had to be carried up and down Kilimanjaro.

The hike to Machame Camp meanders up about 7.5 miles (12 km) from a starting altitude of 4,890 feet (1490 m) to 9,780 feet (2980 m) and almost the entire hike is through thick rainforest common at the lower altitudes of Kilimanjaro. It is the only part of the hike that is shaded yet the temperature can be quite hot.

One thing that you learn about hiking in a group is that normally not everyone is the same speed. It all depends on preference, physical ability and endurance on how fast you go and inevitably a group naturally splits up into different pace groups. That is why it is essential to have more than one guide so when a group splits up, you can assign a guide to each group. It is not legal to climb Kilimanjaro without a guide therefore it is very important to have more than one, especially on the summit day when different factors such as altitude sickness, can become an issue in keeping a group together.

As the day passed, we naturally broke up into a few different pacing groups and the group I was with arrived a little after six o’clock. The campsite was packed with tents and people, and it was getting cold. Thankfully our speedy porters (who are in absolutely tremendous shape) had arrived hours before and set up our tents. Every meal was served inside our dining room tent, a large tent that held a table for ten and chairs. Our cooks prepared fresh, hot meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner and even popcorn for a snack at sunset. The food was delicious and we were always starving.

Slowly the sun began to set and the cool, moist air of the rainforest seeped inside the tent. Day one was complete. I was cold, tired and ready to sleep. As the sky grew dark, the only noise I could hear was the singsong chatter of Swahili which lulled me to sleep.

This is an excerpt from my post Kilimanjaro: Day 1 Climb to Machame Camp. To read entire post, click on link.

Day 2: Climb to Shira Camp

The second day climb would take us from 9,780 feet (2,980 m) to Shira Camp at 12,600 feet (3,840 m) passing through rainforest glades, the vast open moorlands and up to the Shira Plateau where the treeline ends and the vegetation becomes sparse. In total, the climb is roughly 4 miles (7 km) taking anywhere between four to six hours depending upon speed.

We set off around 8:30 am along with all the hundreds of other climbers, going up a steep, narrow path in single file line. The first hour was rather laborious and frustrating because when one person or group stopped, it set off a domino effect going down the mountain stopping us all. Thankfully the trail widened and opened up a bit later into the hike or it would have been a long, annoying day.

As you climb up out of the forest and lush tropical trees, you enter heather and moorland filled with low-lying shrubs, less vegetation and a thick coating of mist and fog hovering over the forest. It is quite beautiful and the higher you climb, the more you feel like you are floating on top of the world.

Machame Camp Kilimanjaro Tanzania

Kilimanjaro TanzaniaWhat makes the Machame Route so incredibly spectacular is the constantly changing ecosystems, cloud covered views and the amazing, unique species of trees and plants some of which are endemic to this part of the world. There truly is no place like it.

As I hiked, I couldn’t stop thinking about the clouds. Years later the clouds are what I remember most about climbing Kilimanjaro. The heavenly, serendipitous beauty of the clouds at different times of day and how they changed with the movement of light and shadows from the sun.

Kilimanjaro Tanzania

The hike was relatively short and easy. Just a little after one o’clock, we got our first sight of Shira Camp, which would end up being one of my favorites. I was elated to arrive so early and have some time to relax and enjoy the beauty of my surroundings. My journal was packed along with a good book. I couldn’t think of any other place I’d rather be.

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This is an excerpt of my post on day 2. To view entire post on day 2 climb to Shira Camp click on link. 

As the sun began to set that night, I was utterly mesmerized. Perhaps even to this day, watching the clouds rise above Shira Camp at sunset was one of the most stunning, unforgettable natural events I have ever witnessed in my life. I would climb Kilimanjaro all over again just to see the magic of these clouds.

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Day 3 Climb to Lava Tower and Barranco Camp

This was one of the longest hikes of the climb except for the summit day. Beginning at Shira Camp (12,600 feet/3,840 m), we headed east up past the end of the vegetation for five hours up to Lava Tower at 15,190 feet (4,629 m) where we had a hot lunch and break. Then we descended back down to Barranco Camp at 12,960 feet (3,950 m) to spend the night at a lower elevation. The main purpose of the hike was acclimatization (it is highly recommended to go up and sleep lower to get your body used to higher altitudes).

Shira Camp, Machame Route, Kilimanjaro

As we headed out on our climb, the landscape began to dramatically change from rainforest and moorland to dark black rock. It was a fascinating hike! If we stopped to look on the ground, we could see pieces of obsidian (black volcanic glass).

Hiking up to Lava Tower, I was reminded of Kilimanjaro’s eruptive past. The views were stunning and it felt a little like being on the moon. There was no vegetation in site and lots and lots of rocks to maneuver around.

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We arrived at Lava Tower, a whopping 15,190 feet (3950 m) a little past 2 pm, famished and exhilarated at the magnificent site before us. Lava Tower was formed by lava thousands of years ago when Kilimanjaro was an active volcano. Its sharp peak stands alone and jets up about 300 feet into the sky making it an interesting climb for those inclined to do more. I chose lunch and saving my knees over climbing up Lava Tower!

After lunch, we had a two-hour walk down from 15,190 feet (4629 m) to Barranco Camp at 12,960 feet (3950 m) where we spent the night. From every angle, the summit of Kilimanjaro loomed reminding me of how much work I’d done and how much more remained. Almost instantly, the landscape began to dramatically change from black volcanic rock to high alpine desert land. What amazed me the most about this part of the hike were the amazing trees and scrubs, some of which are endemic to Kilimanjaro and are magnificent. The Senecio Kilimanjaro and the Lobelia decKenii are two types of trees found along the path to Barranco Camp. The plants first appeared on the slopes of Kilimanjaro over one million years ago and are perhaps the most unusual trees I’d ever seen. We arrived at Barranco Camp just in time to relax before sunset.

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Once again the views at Barranco Camp are stunning and equally as gorgeous as the night before at Shira Camp. I was pleasantly surprised that there could be another place as lovely as the night before.

Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

Kilimanjaro hike to Barranco Camp Machame Route

This is an excerpt from my post Kilimanjaro: Day 3 Climb to Lava Tower and Barranco Camp. To read entire post, click on link.

This is an excerpt from my post Evening at Karanga Camp . To read entire post, click on link.

Day 4: Climb to Karanga Camp

The climb to Karanga Camp is a relatively strenuous yet short hike up and over the Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp at 13,780 feet (4,000 m). Our group set off early trying to beat the long lines of people climbing up the narrow path. The first hour of the hike was a bit frustrating. If someone in front of you stopped to rest, the entire long queue of hikers below would have to also stop and one thing is for certain when I hike, I don’t like to stop unless I absolutely have to.

Parts of the climb involved using fingers and hands to pull oneself up the rock. Hiking poles proved frivolous and just got in the way. I remember my friend Neha’s lovely analogy about the necessity and use of hiking poles and how it relates to life. Some days a climb requires a little support and other times you just use your own hands. This part of the climb, we were all on our own.

Once we scaled Barranco Wall, the climb was much easier, affording spectacular views of the valley below. I felt like we were resting on top of a pillowcase of clouds.

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We arrived at our camp well before lunch, much earlier than usual, and had all afternoon to rest and relax. A nagging part of me wanted to continue on the next 3-4 hours to the next camp, Barafu, which is what the 6-day Machame Route follows (We were taking the 7-day Machame route meaning we would spend the night at Karanga Camp instead of the next camp, Barafu). There are pros and cons of doing the climb in six verses seven days. If you do it in six days, you are closer to getting back to a normal bed and a shower, however, it is much more exhausting. If you take the seven-day route, it is longer and you are exposed to sleeping outside for one more night but there is a greater chance of acclimatization and hence success rate at reaching the summit.

As we walked, the landscape became barren once again with little or no vegetation. All that remained was brownish-black rock. The location could not be any less beautiful than the last. I could feel that we were in for another magical night. And we were indeed.

Karanga Camp Machame Route Kilimanjaro

This is an excerpt from my post Kilimanjaro: Day 4 Climb to Karanga Camp . To read entire post, click on link.

This is an excerpt from my post Evening at Karanga Camp . To read entire post, click on link.

Day 5: Hike to Kosovo Camp and Rest before Summit Attempt

The morning light rose above the mountain and slowly warmed my tent. I had slept relatively well knowing that the next 36 hours were going to be grueling. We would have a short three hour hike to Barafu Camp at 14,930 feet (4,550 feet)  – the normal setting off point for the summit attempt – and continue on to a higher, lesser known camp called Kosovo where we would sleep before a midnight rise to climb to the top.

It was another gorgeous day and the views of the summit were spectacular. After five days and nights on the mountain, it was hard to believe that the summit attempt was already so near. We were incredibly fortunate to have been blessed with such spectacular weather and were hoping that our climb up would be equally nice. The thought of climbing unprotected for hours in the dark scared me more than the actual climb. I knew that on some cases it could be bone-numbing cold with winds well below zero. Six or seven hours in that sounded painful.

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We reached Barafu Camp (14,930 feet/4,550 m) hungry and ready for a hot lunch. As one of the highest camps before the summit attempt, it was rocky and crowded. After being there for only a few minutes, I was relieved that we would continue on to the next camp up. Few people know about Kosovo Camp and staying there instead of at Barafu saved us an ugly first hour straight up climb at the onset of our quest to reach the top.

It was only a short hike to Kosovo Camp where we would rest, eat an early dinner and rise shortly after midnight for our climb up. The hike was steep, rugged and tough, giving us all a small taste of what we had in store for us early the next day as we attempted to summit Kilimanjaro at Uhuru Peak. As we left camp and continued up, it was astounding to look down upon the clouds and realize just how far we had come.

It was so barren up this high. There was no sign of life except for those of us crazy enough to attempt to climb Kilimanjaro and still smile about it.

It was time to get organized for the big push. I tried desperately to relax but had a hard time. Did I pack the right gear? Would I have the proper number of layers on? Would I be freezing cold? Would I be ok? These thoughts continued to loom through my head while I tried to get a few hours of sleep before my midnight rise.

Kosovo Camp Machame Route Kilimnajaro

Kosovo Camp with view of Uhuru Peak behind.

This is an excerpt from the post Kilimanjaro: A rest at Kosovo before the Summit Push

Day 6: Midnight Final Push to the Summit

My group of four was to rise at 12:30 am, quickly dress and have some hot tea and biscuits before setting off at 1 am. We went to bed and tried our best to sleep right after dinner at 6 and I slept in most of my gear for the climb. It was freezing cold inside the tent and I tossed and turned until I eventually fell into a restless sleep.

I rose a little after midnight feeling jittery and excited. Despite my nervousness and fear of the unknown, I was ready to do my best to conquer the mountain and reach to the top. I packed my backpack carefully remembering to fill my Nalgene bottles with hot water for the top (so they wouldn’t freeze), to place my camera deep inside my jacket so the battery wouldn’t die from the cold, and to have plenty of energy gels readily available to fuel me for the climb up.

We left quietly at five past one, and joined the long train of headlights slowly going up the face of the mountain under the cold and starry night. Instantly I realized how lucky we were to have spent the night at Kosovo instead of the more popular camp below. We cut off an entire hour of difficult climbing up and also got an extra hour to sleep. I felt thankful as the first group of climbers lumbered up the steep incline above.

I don’t remember much about the climb as I think I was half awake. I do remember that my hands and feet were bone cold and almost to the point of becoming numb. I also remember it wasn’t as insanely hard as I thought it would be. It was challenging and strenuous but I could handle it. We climbed up a steep zigzag path, slowly in one straight line of hundreds of other climbers, all wearing their headlights to guide the way. I remember at one point looking up as far as my neck could bend back and seeing a beautiful pale white dotted sea of headlights. It was stunning. We also saw the Milky Way high above.

Perhaps because our pace was steady and slow I never once got altitude sickness. I had experienced severe altitude sickness before last November in Bolivia where our base camp was at 15,000 feet. I didn’t know exactly what it was at the time as I was sleeping in the tent the first night and my heart began to race and race. It scared me. But then it stopped.

But here on Kilimanjaro as I climbed up slowly passing 16,000, 17,000 and 18,000 feet I never once had a single symptom at all. No headache. No nausea. No difficulty breathing or rapid heartbeat. I was lucky.

Others in our group began feeling nauseous or they began to get a headache but they continued on up despite the pain. You could see other climbers who were not so lucky and were vomiting alongside the trail. At this point of the climb, most people could still go up to the top as long as the altitude sickness didn’t get to the point where it became too severe and life-threatening. If that was the case, it would be a rapid descent down with the help of a guide and porter (or worst case scenario, being carried down).

We took lots of breaks and helped the others in our group who were struggling. It felt amazing to be doing the climb as a team. Although we each had our own reasons for wanting to reach the top, we also had our beautiful connection of support, encouragement and compassion for one another. It added another wonderful layer of magic to the climb.

It was hours and hours of climbing up until we finally began to see the extraordinary line of deep red bordering the horizon. I knew what it was but had never seen it before from so high in the air. The sun. Soon the sun would be rising over Kilimanjaro and it meant two amazing things: First, we would finally be warmer! Second and more importantly, we were almost to the top!

Reaching the top of Kilimanjaro at sunrise is one of the main reasons why climbers set off in the middle of the night. It can take easily 6-10 hours from the camp below to summit and what goes up must come down, meaning after you summit and are completely exhausted, you have to climb back down the mountain to get to camp. It is the longest, most difficult day of the entire climb. You literally walk for over 14-16 hours with little time to sleep.

As the sun began to light up the sky, I knew we were almost there. I desperately wanted to pull out my camera to capture the sun rising over Kilimanjaro but I was too darn cold and had to keep moving. The top was only about an hour away and I was still feeling great. The extra hope and encouragement of the sun rising gave me the extra strength I needed to reach the top.

As I climbed up, the sunrise put me in a deep, meditative trance. It was by far the most spectacular natural occurrences I have ever seen. Slowly the sky and the clouds began to turn colors of pinks, yellows, golds and sparkling white. It was as if I were looking down from Heaven up above. It was incredible.

We knew we were getting close when we saw what remains of the glaciers covering the top of Kilimanjaro. Over the past several decades, the snow has been rapidly melting and someday it will all be gone. What a tragedy that will be.

At this point I was in a euphoric trance. We had come so far and walked for so many miles to get to this point, and it was almost there. I felt like I was going to cry but I definitely didn’t want my tears to freeze across my face.

Then, around a corner we saw the sign for Stella’s Point, and we knew we were almost there. It would only be about another 20 minutes up and we’d be on top of the world at Uhuru Peak. 19,340 feet/5895 m. The highest point in Africa and the highest I’d ever been.

As we left Stella Point, I hilariously felt like running. I wanted to get there so bad. But of course I didn’t. I just continued on with my soul smiling knowing that I would almost accomplish a 15-year old dream.

And then I did.

We didn’t stay long because it was very cold and some of our team was sick. We also knew that we had a long six hours back down to Kosovo Camp where we would eat, rest for a few hours and continue on down again. It was going to be a long day.

Top of Kilimanjaro

Here is the ice fields and glaciers on top of Kilimanjaro. These photos were taken on the descent down.

Uhuru Peak, Mount Kilimanjaro, SolarSisterSummit

This is an excerpt from the post Reaching up to the sky on top of Kilimanjaro. To read post in full click on link.

Day 6 Continues with the long walk down

There is one fact that is sometimes forgotten when climbing a mountain: What goes up, must come down. After the euphoric elation of reaching the summit at a little past seven o’clock, the reminder of the long, difficult hike back down hit me like truck. I was exhausted, famished and at an emotional high that would soon dwindle as I began my descent down to our base camp for some much-needed rest.

Our group of nine had split up into different pace groups, and I was alone with another climber from our group, David. Despite being as fit as can be (David just completed a marathon in Africa a few days before setting out on our climb), being in shape does not always guarantee your body will acclimatize properly. There are a number of reasons why you can get altitude sickness but it is never certain what exactly sets it off. Poor David reached the top of Kilimanjaro and promptly vomited behind the trail. He needed to get back down and fast.

David’s stamina and strength were rapidly deteriorating which made me nervous. We had little food or water left over save a few Cliff Bars and gel packs which I gave to David to ensure he would make it down the long, steep and seriously brutal 4-5 hours back to our base camp. The hike down was slippery, difficult and painful. By that point in the hike, the earlier injury to my left leg and knee was throbbing in swollen pain (I had slipped in a rice patty the day before leaving for the climb and seriously injured my poor left leg). I was dehydrated, cranky and hot but my biggest concern was making sure David would make it because I certainly wouldn’t be able to carry him down.

We began descending at a pretty fast speed but both of us kept slipping and falling on the dangerous rock. It was by far the worst part of the entire climb. My legs throbbed and David continued to get worse and worse. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it without me going ahead and getting help. But he continued on, weak and determined to get to the camp. I was amazed.

The rest of the descent to Kosovo Base Camp, where we left ten hours before at one in the morning, was a blur. I remember stopping several times wondering how I would go on. But the realization that we would have food, water and our tents to sleep in kept me going. Plus David’s determination to get it over with pressed me forward.

It felt like we walked down the same path for hours watching many other climbers struggling just the same. Some were better off and some were worse. No one was in great shape at that point, though.

Finally, at close to eleven o’clock we saw our camp in the distance. I was elated. I kept moving one leg in front of the other praying for it to be over. It was a tease to the eyes as it was of course much further to reach than it appeared. But finally we made it and I nearly dropped to the ground in relief. I was done and had nothing left.

After a three-hour sleep, it was time to get up, eat and continue down to the final base camp of the trip. The last thing I felt like doing was walking more yet I wanted to get down to a warmer place and closer to the end. My left leg were quite swollen which would eventually make my left knee throb the entire four hours down and for days after the hike.  But I was determined to go. The thought of getting back to our hotel with a hot shower, a normal bed and alas a glass or two of wine kept me moving.

Our original plan was to climb back down to Mkewa Camp (10,170 ft/3,1000m) where we would have a short walk the next day to the gate but we didn’t make it that far given the varying speeds of our group. Instead, we went to a closer camp for the night called “Millennial Camp” where we would finally get a full night’s sleep before heading out the next morning.

One more long, cold night. But at least the view was good. I watched the sun set on the mountain for one last time from my tent and went fitfully asleep. I realized that I wasn’t sure if I would want to sleep in a tent again any time soon.

Kilimanjaro: The Long Walk Down

Kilimanjaro: The Long Walk Down Continues 

Day 7: The End of the Road

I woke up on the last day on Mount Kilimanjaro feeling tired, sore and irritable. My left knee had finally just given out and I still blame it all on my fall in the rice fields the day before the climb which injured my left leg. I never mentioned it before but I also have been battling a two-year annoying injury somewhere within the confines of my right hip. Right in the midst of the pain and physical therapy last April I decided on a whim that I wasn’t going to let anything including pain deter me from fulfilling my dreams. I was going to climb Kilimanjaro one way or another.

You may think I’m crazy but I’m not one to let anything get in my way. I’m still to this day working on improving the issues with my right hip because I love to be active more than anything and not being able to run, bike and play like I want to has been very difficult. I’ve learned a few valuable lessons throughout it all. First, my body is not as young as it was before. Yes I will fight aging as much as possible yet injuries will happen when I push myself. Second, I will never give up doing the things I love unless I absolutely can’t walk. Being active is a huge part of my life and without it, I’d be even more miserable. I must fight to keep my body healthy and strong.

Despite the fatigue and utter feeling of being completely filthy after seven days without a shower, we were all slightly euphoric for our final walk down. It would be about three short hours back down to the Mweka Gate where we began our journey seven days before. We would once again walk through the different ecozones of the mountain leaving the moorland and heather behind and entering the muddy jungle at the bottom of Kilimanjaro.

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We were told by our guide Chaney to keep our eyes out for the last view of the top of Kilimanjaro, a special gift about half way down, Through a clearing in the thick foliage, I saw it and felt at ease. I had been there. I had done that. I had been on top of the world.

All in all we had walked 62 miles (100 kilometers) up and 24 miles (38 kilometers) down beginning at an altitude of 4,890 feet (1,490 m) at the Machame Gate and reaching the top of Uhuru Peak at 19,340 feet (5,895 m). It was quite an accomplishment and I felt exhilarated that it was now finally complete. I could finally lay my long-held dream to rest.


Part of our Solar Sister crew

The last hour of the walk was exceedingly muddy and slick. I continued downward with one foot in front of the other. We were almost there. And then in the distance we saw it and knew my long walk down was almost complete. I was overjoyed!

Climbing Kilimanjaro had been an absolutely incredible experience. It had been a long held dream for decades and not once was I ever let down by the journey. Climbing with the amazing Solar Sister team to help bring light to the people of Africa made the journey even more meaningful. It is an experience I will never ever forget.

View descending Kilimanjaro

One last look at what we climbed as seen through the rainforest on our long walk down.

This is an excerpt from the post Kilimanjaro: The End of the Road. To read in full click on the link.

As I finish typing up this guide, I feel utterly nostalgic to do it all over again. It was worth the effort, the pain and the hardwork to experience and see something that was so incredible that it is hard to put into words. I hope to do it again someday and this time with my own children. Hopefully there will still be at least a little snow left on top of Kilimanjaro.

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  1. Wow… Such an amazing post !!

    I have been dreaming about trekking to Mt. Kilimanjaro for years and nowhere near realizing it.

    But, I hope, one day, I will be making it to the top of this stunning beauty.

    This is truly an inspiring post, with stunning images and all the essential information to get prepared.

    What really stands out is, ‘the cause’ for which you planned this climb and the organization you chose to work with.

    Thanks again for sharing this great post with us and as always, your goodwill and good deeds towards the needy people around the world 🙂

    Have a beautiful day 🙂

    1. Thanks so much! Yes, it was something on my mind for at least 15 years before I did it but so glad I did. Going with a cause made it even more special for me. Thanks for reading and hope all is well! 🙂

  2. This was a fantastic post. Incredible detail. I have some friends doing the climb in June and I’ll pass them the link. It’s best they know the hardships as well as the joys of what they are undertaking. Thank you.

    1. So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing with your friends and if they have any questions please let me know. I’m happy to help!

  3. You rocked it, Nicole!! Congratulations on an amazing feat! Those clouds are awesome, but even more so are the guides who carry all that stuff and sometimes on their heads. To me, that’s the most incredible thing. 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to share all of this. It was so interesting to read.


    1. Thanks for taking the time to read it. It ended up being very long but I really wanted to put a resource out there for those who want to climb it. I thought it would be really useful to have all the details and all the highs and lows. One thing I liked a lot about the guiding program here as opposed to Nepal is that they have strict rules in place to protect and safeguard the porters. Each bag is carefully weighed and measured to ensure that it is not above the limits. I wrote about it in my first post on Kilimanjaro but should have included it in this one too. In Nepal, I was horrified to see some of the conditions the guides and porters were in. When my dad and I did the Annapurna trek in 2010 our porter did not have proper shoes! We ended up buying him a pair of real hiking shoes in one of the towns as there was no way he could walk in what he was wearing. In Peru, it was worse as the porters there wore basically flip flops. I think things are really improving now as there are stricter regulations in place. Overall our guides and porters were a really happy group as they were treated and paid well, fed well and enjoyed the camaraderie of being together on the mountain. It is long times away from family but still pays lot better than other things they can do. In Nepal, the guys are usually gone for months at a time with little or no contact to home due to bad cell service. It is a tough life.

  4. In answer to your first question #yes #sailingaroundtheworld 😃.

    I remember your inspiring climb of Kilimanjaro for Solar Sisters and thank you for sharing your key insights from that trip here. While I will not be ascending Kilimanjaro this time around, a fellow circumnavigator will be and I’ve passed along your insights to her.

    Visiting it again with you here makes me wish I were joining her.

    1. Yes….I can only imagine the decision to sail around the world! Now that is an adventure I’d be terrified of doing. I love reading all your posts and am always so inspired. Thanks for passing along my post to your friend and please let your friend know that I’m happy to answer any questions. 🙂

  5. I leave in 9 weeks to hike Kilimanjaro, a desire I’ve had for many years but injuries and money have pushed it back time and time again. I finally decided to make it happen and hope everything goes smoothly. Great to read about your experience.

    1. Wow how exciting!!! What route are you taking and are you going with a group? I was also recovering from a hip injury at the time and it actually was fine on the climb. The ironic thing is that the day before we were to start climbing I fell in the rice paddies behind the hotel while I was exploring and hit a big log on my calf. That bothered me the entire time but I made it. Can’t wait to read all about it!

      1. That will be amazing! I can’t wait to hear all about it! You will do great!

    1. Thank you Otto for the kind words. I always appreciate your comments. It was a very memorable trip!

  6. What a feat! Your photos are stunning and your Kilimanjaro adventure guide is one of the most fascinating blogs I have read this year. While I’ve seen your comments pop up on many sites I follow, I wonder now why it took me so long to check out your blog, as we seem to have a few things in common.

    As I read through your journey and account, I switched from wanting to follow in your path up this majestic mountain, to realizing it wouldn’t be for me at all, as I have bad knees and get headaches when over-exerting myself, as this trip surely would be. You have to be quite fit to make an attempt like this. Would you recommend using hiking poles?

    I once climbed a massive volcano in Indonesia, which is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Up to this day. I had no prior hiking experience back then and was only 24. I swore I would never do such a thing again, so that hike up Kilimanjaro would kill me. I also suffer from altitude sickness and get nauseous when hiking in the dark. Enough excuses to be happy to just virtually make the trip with you!

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! I love to hike and have done a few over the years. This one isn’t technical but yes if you have bad knees it would be quite brutal as the last day is a killer. By the time I made it up and down my legs felt like rubber. I had done a marathon years ago and it was that same feeling of pure exhaustion. I bet climbing a volcano in Indonesia would be pretty epic! Where are you from? Thanks so much for checking out my blog! I’ve seen your comments too! So I should pop on over to your blog as well! 🙂 Nicole

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