After our stay in the Serengeti, we travel southeast toward Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Kilimajaro is an inactive stratovolcano that rises 5,892 meters above sea level. It is a tough trek, but is arguably the easiest of the big seven (highest mountain on each continent) to climb.
We will be taking the Rongai route. This route approaches Kilimanjaro from the north. This route has low traffic because of its remote location. The trail passesthrough true wilderness areas for days before joining the Marangu route at Kibo camp.
On our first day, we start out at the Rongai gate, elevation 1,950 meters. Here we register and meet our guide. We hike through zig-zagging corn fields for an hour and then enter a pine forest. The aroma of resin fills our nostrils. We do not change our altitude excessively. We end at the first Rongai cave at 2,600 meters. Here we set up first camp.
Early in the next morning, we set off again. We pass the second Rongai cave en-route and continue upwards. The pine forests become sparser and we enter a moorland. Finally, one can see the expanse below and above them. A small burbling stream passes by us. We overnight at the Kikelwa Cave at 3600 meters. The stream serenades us to sleep.
Today’s short three hour climb is the hardest yet. We ascend steep grassy slopes which provide openings for spectacular vistas over the Kenyan and Tanzanian grasslands below. We reach Mawenzi Tarn in the early afternoon. We camp in the last vegetation we will see for a few days. In the distance, one can see the towering peak of Mawenzi, the second highest summit of Kilimanjaro, looming above us. One is amazed to think that we are going to head even higher than that. We spend a while here, exploring and acclimatizing. We will lungs of steel to continue.
We have another hard climb today. Not to mention, today’s trek will be longer. We will spend approximately five hours gaining altitude through alpine desert: a tough terrain filled with rocks and hard, nearly frozen ground. We finally make it to the Kibo Hut. We go to bed early because at midnight the summit push begins.
At eleven o’clock, we awaken. Warm tea makes us feel a bit more human. We hit the rocky trail to the Hans Meyer Cave. There we rest. At 5150 meters, we are having some difficulty catching our breath, but our acclimatization period is paying off. We then take the switchback path up to Gillman’s point. This location is located on the rim of the volcanic crater. The loose choss (stone) is a constant drain on or energy as it feels as if we fall back every step we take. Small patches of snow can be seen. We trudge on. Then, almost suddenly, there is nowhere further to go. We have reached 5895 meters! We are on top of the African continent. We made it! We spend about an hour on the summit. The weather permits us to do so. Sun shines over Africa. All of the plains and grasslands lie below us. Some of us feel like we accomplished something, while others are amazed at how insignificant we are in comparison to everything else. Mountains tend to do that in people. Anyway, we now start heading down. Although it may be easier physically, we must stay mentally strong so that we do not slip and fall, injuring ourselves. We make it all the way down to the Horombo hut where we sleep, exhausted, but exhilarated.
After a hot breakfast we continue to descend for another 6 hours. Finally, we reach the Marangu gate. We made it! We successfuly climbed Kilimanjaro!
We have not conquered the mountain, however, the mountain just gracefully allowed us to scamper up its spine for a moment and then reminded us of our place. We receive our gold certificates which we can proudly display. But perhaps more exciting: hot showers, here we come!