Mt. Kilimanjaro Climb: Days 1-4 – Pole Pole to the Top!

It has been two weeks since I reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and I’ve had  a week and a half to enjoy being back at home. I had hoped giving myself the extra time to write this blog would help me gather the words to help describe the climb…but I cannot begin to explain how physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging it was to climb Kilimanjaro! But what I can do is give you a glimpse into the daily activities and thoughts I had based on my journal entries while on the mountain.

Day 1 (October 1)

I flew from Toronto –> Montreal –> Amsterdam.

Day 2 (October 2)

While waiting for my flight from Amsterdam to Tanzania to take off, I was surprised to see how many other Kilimanjaro climbers there were! As people walked by me on the flight, I could see it in their eyes: a sense of nervousness, excitement, and the “Oh my god! I can’t back out of this now” look of terror on their face. Haha! I wondered if I looked the same way to them.

My room at the Kia Lodge

My room at the Kia Lodge

After the 8hr flight from Amsterdam, we arrived at the Kilimanjaro Airport @ 7pm; I picked up my luggage, passed through customs, and was greeted by an employee from the tour group who drove me to the lodge I would sleep at for one night. A five minute drive from the airport and we arrived at The Kia Lodge. I remember looking up at the night sky as I was led to my private lodge room and couldn’t believe the number of stars I could see. I remember thinking to myself I wish I had someone with me to share the experience with. The view was spectacular! Upon entering my room, I reminded myself to enjoy the restful sleep on the bed, as I wouldn’t be able to have such luxuries on the mountain once we started climbing.

Kia Lodge

Kia Lodge

Day 3 (October 3)

Waking up to the local wildlife sounds was interesting. I quickly showered and headed out of the lodge to see Africa for the first time in daylight. It was very surreal. The bugs were bigger and louder, the birds were louder and sported some eye-popping colours, and the vegetation was very interesting. I could only stay at the lodge until noon at which point I would be picked up and dropped off at a lodge in Arusha (2.5hrs away from Kilimanjaro), so I had breakfast and made sure I took my time to enjoy the amenities at the lodge. I also met 4 other climbers from Canada who would be joining me and the rest of the group on the journey to the top of Kilimanjaro! Such a small world – they were from Burlington Ontario – a neighbouring city to where I grew up…and were extremely friendly…little did I know we’d become good friend on the mountain in the days to come.

First look at Mt. Kilimanjaro

First look at Mt. Kilimanjaro

It was pretty cloudy during the morning so I couldn’t get a good glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro (one of the lodge employees told me she was shy and didn’t like to peek out from behind the clouds). However, shortly after breakfast I headed up to a lookout point to steel a glance, and I was greeted by Kilimanjaro –  majestic, ominous, and beautiful – there it stood, in all of its glory, waiting for me to try and conquer it. It was my first view of Kilimanjaro in person and as I admired it from afar, I began to realize how difficult this challenge was going to be.

Later in the day I was transferred to the new hotel (the Ilboru Lodge) in Arusha. This is where I would meet the rest climbers (who were all from the UK). Unfortunately, their flights were delayed and the 19 climbers arrived very late to the hotel (after 9pm). It was at this time when we all met each other for the first time and sat down to listen to our chief guide (Paulo) complete the first climb briefing. Paulo had 3 main points for us to keep in mind for the entire climb: 1. Have the proper gear 2. Drink lots of water and 3. PMA – Positive Mental Attitude. If you don’t follow the 3 points, you won’t succeed. If you didn’t have the proper gear at this point, he would help you by sending you into town to pick up what you needed. He told us what to pack and to be prepared for every weather condition. It was a very positive and exciting briefing. Everyone was ready to hit the pavement running. But first – bed and then an early start! It would be our last time sleeping in a comfy bed. 🙂

Day 4 (October 4)

Altitude: 2200m-2700m / 7,200ft – 8,860ft
Weather: Daytime temp: aprx 25 Degrees Celsius, sunny 

Jeff waits for the bus to be loaded

Jeff waits for the bus to be loaded

Up at 6:30am to have the last shower before your return to the lodge after the climb! Had breakfast as a group in the lodge and then on the road shortly after to drive 3hrs to the first gates of Kilimanjaro! You could not see Kilimanjaro from the Ilboru Lodge…so a notable moment from the bus ride was about 2 hours in, when Paulo yelled and pointed “There is Kilimanjaro!” The mountain was 97% covered by clouds, but you could clearly see the icecaps at the summit. Everyone on the bus went silent and viewed the mountain in awe. You could feel the nervousness and excitement kick into high gear at this point. The emotions rush through you fast and furious.

The bus ride was extremely bumpy, but we arrived in one piece to be greeted by dozens of guides and porters at the base of a rainforest. Exiting the bus, we were handed boxed lunches which contained a banana, carrot sticks, a bag of chips, and a bun with butter. Quickly eat what you were given as you need to meet the guides and porters then start the trek through the rainforest!

Guides & Porters prep for the first day

Guides & Porters prep for the first day

There were 97 of us in the group including: 25 climbers, 1 doctor, 11 guides, 2 cooks, and 58 porters. The porters would be responsible for carrying the heavier equipment, tents, food and extra water. All climbers were responsible for carrying their daypacks (aprx 10-15lbs. ) which would include a change of clothing for all weather conditions, 3-4L of water, lunch, climbing poles, camera, and personal care products (soap, hand sanitizer, TP, sunscreen, etc.), and any other miscellaneous items they felt needed to be with them at all times.

“Pole pole” the lead guide would remind us as we started off. “Pole pole” (pronounced pole-lay pole-lay) is Swahili for “slowly slowly” and boy did we walk slowly. If any of you have walked with me in person, you know how fast I like to walk. You would never have recognized me in this group walking slower I’ve ever walked before in my life. Haha!  I was told summit night speed would be 1/2 the speed of what we were walking…and I just couldn’t fathom the speed. Slowly we walked through a cloud of dirt and headed into the rainforest where would catch a glimpse of white tailed monkeys and some amazing rainforest vegetation. Surprisingly there were no bugs or mosquitos along the way.

Climbing the Lemosho Route can be dusty!

Climbing the Lemosho Route can be dusty!

We arrived at our first camp site shortly after a 5hr climb through the rainforest. The camp was very hectic, noisy, and crammed. We had to share the space with at least 3 other climbing groups. Sleeping tents were pitched, the food tent was set up, and the sun had already started to set. By the time we figured out which tents we were sleeping in, it was getting pretty dark. We headed into the food tent to enjoy our first meal at camp: soup, potatoes, veggies, fish, and for dessert, fruit salad.

Following dinner, a larger number of climbers in our group hung around the food tent to get better aquatinted with each other.  (We couldn’t burn fires on the mountain, so we stayed inside the food tent where it was warmest).  We all shared stories about ourselves  (this is where I introduced the story about “Zee German Spy”) and got to know more about everyone – while having some fun. It was a great evening and great end to a wonderful first day of climbing. We all headed to bed shortly after 10pm and the temperature had already dropped to about 5 degrees celsius. That night the monkey’s kept some of us awake. They were pretty noisy, but I was able to sleep well in order to start day 5 at 6am.

Rainforest terrain was fairly easy

Rainforest terrain was fairly easy

Our First Camp Site

Our First Camp Site

Our food tent

Our food tent

 

 

I’ll post an update for the rest of the climb in a few days!  Be sure to check back!

Cheers,
Jeff

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