"You need to kill Kili before Kili kills you," is the infamous saying of Arshad, a Kilimanjaro trekking guide for Zara Tanzania. Standing over 6 feet tall, this muscular and very charismatic guide has been to the top of Kilimanjaro dozens of times and is an expert on this mountain. In fact, he jokes that Kilimanjaro is his girl friend because he spends more time with her then he does in his home in Moshi.
Arshad, our Zara Tours Mountain Guide, gets a break from walking on Day 3.
Kilimanjaro National Park spans 290 sq miles in northern Tanzania and is home to the highest peak in Africa and the largest free sanding mountain in the world. The park itself has 5 different vegetation zones ranging from lush rainforest to alpine desert and so whether it a day trek or a multi-day summit attempt, this park has something for everyone to enjoy.
Our trek up Kilimanjaro started at 9am at the Zara owned and operated Springlands hotel. At 8:30am a bus pulled in and our bags, weighing no more than 15 kg, were loaded on top as we, along with other eager trekkers, boarded the bus for the Rongai gate located in the northern part of the park.
After registering with the park and getting our trekking permits, we set off on our journey to the top of Africa. Our first stop: Simba camp located at 2500 meters and a 2.5-3 hour walk through farm land, small villages and rainforest. The walk was peaceful and I, in my excitement to actually be climbing the mountain I have dreamt about for 13 years, was moving at a steady speed. "Pole pole, Leigh!" Michael, the assistant guide calls out. "Slow, Leigh. We must walk pole pole."
For anyone who has climbed on Kilimanjaro the phrase "pole pole", swahili for "slowly", is one that is entrenched in your memories. You see Kilimanjaro is not a technical climb: you don't need ropes or cramp ons or oxygen tanks, however it is a mountain that sends 40% of trekkers home without the golden certification of reaching Uhuru peak, Kilimanjaro's highest point. And so "pole pole" is the way that Kilimanjaro must be done if I have any chance of reaching Uhuru.
After a night at Simba camp we leave early the next morning for our next stop at Second Cave camp. Originally scheduled for a 7 day trek we decided to cut a day and summit early based on how we were feeling. Since our plans changed we had some options for which Rongai route we wanted to go for. Opting for the more conservative route we decided to camp at Second and Third cave instead of heading east towards Mawenzi camp. Sitting at 3500 meters, Second cave camp is located in the high mooreland of Kilimanjaro and is a 3.5 hour trek from Simba camp. We arrived at around noon that day and had a few hours to relax in the sun before heading out for an acclimatization hike. That evening as the sun set over the mountain and the clouds rolled in below, Arshad said to us, "Hukuna Matata. You will make it to Uhuru no problem." As I laid in my sleeping bag that night I only hoped his words to be true.
Day three on the mountain brought us to Third cave camp, located at 3900 meters, where we experienced high winds and very cold nights. Being from the frozen tundra I felt prepared for the cold--or at least I thought. The nights on Kilimanjaro are cold, so much so that my 0 degree F Sierra Design down sleeping bag was not enough to keep me sufficiently warm at night. I am thankful that I had my Patagonia down jacket and good thermals to help fend off the cold.
On day four we then made our way to Kibo Huts, one of Kilimanjaro's base camps. The walk from Third camp to Kibo takes around "4ish hours, 'ish' being a little under or over", according to Arshad. As we walked through the alpine desert towards Kibo, Kilimanjaro's summit shadowed over us. With every step Uhuru got closer and my anxiety for the summit night escalated. As we approached Kibo, which sits at 15,520 feet, all I could do it look up and wonder, will I make it to the top? Even with Arshad and Michael's continued optimism I knew that only time would tell.