Something a little different here as instead of writing about wild and wonderful Irish walks, this article looks at Climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This was a challenge of a lifetime for me and I wanted to take some time and write about how it all came about and give some detail about the experience of climbing Kilimanjaro.
How Climbing Kilimanjaro Started For Me
My best friend and flatmate Dave broke the big news to us one weekend. He was taking a year out to go travelling the world with his girlfriend, Síne. Great news for Dave and Síne!
Of course, we were all happy for them. At the same time, some other thoughts came unbidden into my head. The most immediate and most profound impact was of course that our group would be without one of our best friends for a whole entire year. Which was bad enough. Another pressing concern was the fact that I was also losing a flatmate. So changes to my housing situation would be needed.
After another few weeks, my other flatmate Karl made a decision that he would like to live on his own for a while and was looking up one-bed apartments. I often wonder whether or not he just thought it was a good opportunity to make a break from me. Dave might have well been the glue that held the three of us together.
In any event, I was on my own in looking for a new place to live while Dave and Síne planned their amazing trip away. I was feeling a bit hard done by it all to be honest. In an act of what could only be described as petty revenge, I decided to invite myself on the first leg of their trip. I’m not sure how happy Síne would have been with this development. I imagine the last thing she would have wanted was a third wheel for the first part of her trip of a lifetime with the love of her life. Sometimes life can be unfair.
On hearing of my intentions to tag along, Dave and Síne added a romantic safari as a precursor to being joined by their self invited hanger-on. I was to then join them afterwards in Tanzania. From there, the three of us would then take on the highest mountain in Africa. We were going to Kilimanjaro!
Getting to Kilimanjaro
We booked our trip to Tanzania with Trailfinders. I found the service to be efficient and knowledgeable. I cannot blame Trailfinders for the predicament I found myself in on landing in Kilimanjaro International Airport. The airport is located in the north of the country, 480km from Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania. The nearest towns to Kilimanjaro International airport are Moshi (35km) and Arusha (45km). The airport facilitates the tourist industry in the area with the main draw (unsurprisingly) being Mount Kilimanjaro National Park.
I flew from to Kilimanjaro via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines. The expected arrival time in Kilimanjaro was 1.30a.m. Being somewhat short of funds, I decided it would be a good idea not to book a hotel for the night I arrived in Tanzania. Rather, I would wait it out in the airport for a few hours, get some breakfast, then travel on to our base for the expedition early the next day. My thinking being that airplanes are always late anyway and it would take a while to get through customs etc. No point in wasting money.
Arriving in Kilimanjaro
I touched down in Kilimanjaro International airport exactly on time. The customs process was quick and efficient. So there I was, suitably impressed and, standing with my luggage taking in the surroundings of the Tanzanian airport.
Everything was very quiet. A little too quiet…. I soon realised the reason for this. The airport was closing for the night. My flight was the last one to arrive. Staff were waiting for everyone to leave so that they could lock up the Arrivals Terminal. This was not a good start to the trip. I walked outside into the still warm African night without having a clue what to do next.
After weighing up my options, I made my decision. I went to the top of the queue of waiting taxi drivers and explained my predicament. The taxi driver had decent English and understood my request. I needed a Hotel for the night. He did look at me like I was a bit of an idiot for not having anything pre-booked. Which was fair enough.
Searching for a Hotel
We set off for Moshi. I was quite nervous for the duration of the 40 minute car trip. What would I do if I couldn’t find accommodation? The first place we stopped at was fully booked which added to my growing anxiety. My ever-helpful taxi driver then enquired at another Moshi hotel just around the corner. Thankfully, they had some vacancies. I gave the driver a generous tip for all of his help and agreed a fee of $15 for the room for the night.
The room itself was basic but for $15 a night what else would you expect.
It was clean though and I bedded down for a few hours before wandering downstairs for breakfast the next morning.
Over breakfast I explained my next conundrum to the hotel staff. How was I to get to my base for the Kilimanjaro trek? The staff fully lived up my new found expectation of how amazing the Tanzanian people are. The Hotel receptionist suggested her brother could drive me from Moshi to the Marungu Hotel about 40 kilometres away. We agreed a very reasonable price and I went outside to wait thinking myself very lucky that the receptionist’s brother just happened to be a taxi driver.
Getting to the Meeting Point
Soon after, a battered looking car pulled up in front of the Hotel. The driver hailed me and proceeding to put my bags into the boot. He definitely wasn’t a taxi driver but sure what could I do.
We were on our way. All in all it took just over an hour to reach the Marangu Hotel. This included a stop for petrol. The people working in the petrol station all came out to say hello to me. I think seeing a tourist was something of a novelty to them.
I arrived relatively early at the Marangu Hotel. It being only mid-day my room was not ready yet. This early check-in was no problem for the staff at the hotel. In fact, our whole stay there was very pleasant. I would highly recommend this location for anyone thinking about climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.
I ordered myself a beer and some lunch and sat outside reading my book with the peak of Kilimanjaro visible in front of me. My excitement started to build. This was going to be a real adventure.
Slowly other guests started to trickle in. The first were a group of three Americans. A father and son plus one of the son’s friends. The boys were in their early twenties and had just completed a few weeks charity work nearby. Now, the Father of one of the boys had come out to meet them and take on the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro.
These guys were your typical Americans. Full of confidence and bravado and a positivity that is a bit alien to anyone from Ireland. They were good people though and we settled into easy company as they joined me in having a few beers.
It turned out that everyone staying in the Hotel would be on the same trek of Kilimanjaro together.
The Kilimanjaro climbers arrived at the hotel in dribs and drabs. The initial group of myself and the three Americans became the welcoming party as we introduced ourselves to the individuals we would become very acquainted with over the next 5 days.
In all, our group had 12 people. These were;
– The 3 Americans
– Another Irish woman who worked in one of the social media companies in the Silicon Docks. It seemed to me that she was taking on this trek as a voyage of self discovery. She seemed focused and confident in her quiet, self-assured manner of carrying herself.
– Two Australian Doctors. These women were probably the closest in age to Dave, Síne and myself and we all got on very well together.
– A Father and teenage daughter from England. They looked a little apprehensive but seemed ready to take on the challenge.
– An older Swiss gentleman who had loads of mountaineering experience in the Alps. We all seemed like novices in comparison and we were a little in awe of him.
– Finally, Dave and Sine, who arrived last to our newly formed group. Fresh from camping out on the savannahs of Tanzania, they were really excited for a new adventure.
I think we were all excited to be honest. Everyone was really looking forward to getting started the following morning. Despite this, we were all aware of how difficult the task at hand was. While this was literally a walk in the park (Kilimanjaro National Park), for many of the 12 assembled hikers, this would be the most difficult physical challenge we would ever undertake.
How Hard Is It to Climb Kilimanjaro?
The stats on climbing Kilimanjaro don’t lie. At our pre expedition meeting we were given the stark truth that the summit success rate for Kilimanjaro is only 65%.
Our rate of success was actually pretty much in line with these predictions with only 8 of the 12 in our group reaching the top. This was despite us taking what is deemed as one of the easiest routes to the summit (see more information below about the different route options).
From my experience, there are 3 main areas to the challenge of climbing Kilimanjaro.
The first one is pretty obvious in that you need to be physically fit to climb the mountain. The good news though is that you don’t need to be ultra athletic for Kilimanjaro. The inclines are not that steep (relatively) and the walks are at a slow and steady pace to allow for better acclimatisation to the altitude. The general rule of thumb is that if you are able to go for a 30 minute run 2-3 times a week and can handle an all day hike over undulating ground at the weekend, then you should be physically fit enough to climb Kilimanjaro.
What is a much bigger obstacle is dealing with the altitude. The thing for me, and for most people who attempt Kilimanjaro is that you have no idea how your body will react to being at such heights.
The peak of Kilimanjaro is 5,895m (or 19,340ft). On the mountain, altitude sickness can hit hard and fast and the only cure is to go back down.
Once you go down, you generally can’t go back up to try again. Firstly, it would not be advisable for health reasons. Secondly, most people climbing Kilimanjaro are on pretty strict timelines. The time lost going down means you don’t have enough time to reach the next milestone in your scheduled slot.
There are anti-altitude tablets you can take but there is no guarantee that these will stop altitude sickness from striking. The advice for dealing with high altitude treks is to try to acclimatize as slowly as possible. This means taking a very gentle pace as you ascend.
The final challenge for summitting the mountain is mental. The mental challenge is difficult because you need the right level of confidence and mental toughness to push through any pain barriers while still being aware of your own body and its limitations. Being too confident is as much a risk as worrying too much or doubting your own abilities. There are many guys (and it usually is men) who are physically fit enough for the challenge but take too strong a pace and then fail to summit as they feel the effects of altitude sickness. Being the tough guy can be completely the wrong option in this scenario.
The great thing about Kilimanjaro though is that it is not a technical climb (although there is a bit of scrambling through scree and boulders on the final ascent). If you have done the physical training, take a steady pace on the journey and have the right attitude then there is a good chance you will make it to the top.
Ultimately, the right attitude means listening to your guides and following their advice.
The Support Team
Our lead guide was a complete gentleman named Fataeli Mangowi. The catchphrase from all the guides for the duration of our incline up to the summit of Kilimanjaro was “pole, pole” which means “slowly, slowly”. This is a friendly reminder to all hikers to take it easy. The slow pace helps people acclimatise to the altitude better and is a really important piece of advice.
The phrase was perfect for Fataeli who was an experienced guide with a lovely laid back attitude and great manner of dealing with people.
It is a requirement that anyone attempting Kilimanjaro be accompanied by an official guide. Helping Fataeli was a big team of assistant guides, porters and cooks.
Helping the Local Economy
The support team were all locals. Working on Kilimanjaro is a prized job and provides a lot for the local economy. The team is paid a pretty low basic wage and do rely on tips from climbers at the end of the trip. There are guidelines available online as to the rate of tips that should be paid. My advice would be to check with your tour operator as to how best the tipping works.
For us, the support team was excellent and fully deserved the tips at the end. The level of service started with the first pre expedition meeting on the day we arrived at the hotel. The prep meeting gave us a great idea of what we should expect over the next week or so.
Before we set off the next morning, the guides also completed an equipment check for all 12 of us. This was really helpful. If anyone was missing anything, the Hotel had an equipment store full of everything you could possibly need for the expedition. I picked up a balaclava as I was warned that it was going to be very cold up top and they had some small concerns that the wooly hat I had brought (borrowed from my Dad) wouldn’t be enough.
A lot of us then chose a walking stick from the many that were available. This proved a great help too. Especially on the steepest parts during the final ascent of Kilimanjaro.
What Route to Choose when Climbing Kilimanjaro?
So we were pretty much ready to set off on this adventure of a lifetime. Unsurprisingly given we were staying at the Marangu Hotel, we were taking the Marangu Route. I set out below a brief outline of some of the other alternative options:
6 – 7 days
The Machame Route is probably the most popular route apart from the Marangu Route. Machame actually has a higher success rate than Marangu. One of the main reasons for this is that the trail has numerous up and downs which allows people to acclimatize better.
7 – 8 days
Dubbed the most scenic route, Lemoso starts from the western side of the mountain before joining the Machame trail. As the route is a little longer and more remote, it is generally considered the most expensive option for climbing Kilimanjaro.
6 – 7 days
Another route that ascends the western side of the mountain, Shira starts from a higher point than Lemosho. If you drive rather than walk the first section of the route along the 4-wheel drive path, you would be starting your trek at an altitude of 3,500m! Needless to say, this means much less time for acclimatization.
6 – 7 days
Rongai is the route with the highest success rate for submitting Kilimanjaro. The reason for this being that the trail has a steady gradual incline that allows time for acclimatizing to the altitude.
5 – 7 days
Umbwe is on the other end of the scale to the Rongai Route as Umbwe is said to be the most difficult option for climbing Kilimanjaro. As well as poor opportunities for acclimatisation, the route comes with a warning that it is not suitable for people who are scared of heights!
8 – 9 days
The Northern Circuit is the longest method of submitting Kilimanjaro. However the additional time offered for acclimatization means that there is a high success rate also.
Our Marangu Route
With final checks done at the Hotel we all piled into a mini bus and set off towards the Marangu Gate entrance to Kilimanjaro National Park. The drive from the Hotel to the starting point took about 20 minutes.
The Marangu Route differs from all of the above options for climbing Kilimanjaro. Marangu is the only route that offers hut accommodation. Marangu is also the only route that ascends the eastern slope of the mountain.
As a result of the added luxury of being able to sleep in a hut rather than camping out, Marangu is the most popular route for the majority of people. Marangu is sometimes known as the Tourist Route or even the Coca Cola Route – up until recently you were able to buy Coca Cola in the huts along the way.
Being the most popular route doesn’t mean Marangu has the highest success rate for getting to the top of Kilimanjaro though. There are a couple of reasons for this, one being that the route attracts tourists who may not be the most serious of walkers and lack the required training before taking on the challenge.
The second being that the relatively quick ascent from hut to hut can lead to altitude sickness. This can be mitigated by taking a slow pace during the daily walks. Here, Fataeli came into his own with constant advice to slow down and keep a steady pace (pole, pole).
Marangu Gate (1,860m) to Mandara Hut (2,720m)
After the mini bus arrived at the Marangu Gate, there was some minor administration work for Fataeli to go through to ensure we all had the required permits to enter the Kilimanjaro National Park.
Without too much of a delay, we were off and walking. Our destination was the Mandara Huts 8km away.
The initial walk is through a lush rain forest. We had great fun looking out for the various wildlife along the trail, particularly the monkeys!
We also got a chance to get to know the group even more. The walk was at a gentle pace (with constant “pole, pole” reminders). We had plenty of stops for water and for lunch and snacks along the way.
The path is quite narrow to begin with and with a noticeable incline for the entire day. We gained almost 1,000m over the 8km hike. However, despite the significant altitude gain, Day 1 was very doable. I think it gave the whole group a real sense of confidence as the path widened and we reached the Mandara Hut. We had passed the first test of our Kilimanjaro adventure.
Mandara Huts (2,720) to Horombo Huts (3,705m)
The Mandara Camp is a group of wooden A Frame (shaped like the letter A) huts that accommodate 6-8 people each. In addition, there is a larger wooden structure which serves as the communal dining hall.
The food in the dining hut is provided by your porters and is very tasty. We stayed up a little while after dinner playing cards but everyone was keen on an early night as we were a little nervous about what would be a tougher day walking to the Horombo Huts.
The huts aren’t luxurious by any stretch but they were clean and served us well for the night. The one luxury the Mandara Camp did have was a flushing toilet located near the main dining hut.
An Early Start
We woke early the next morning to a bowl of warm water to wash with and breakfast in the communal hut.
Our destination for today was the Horombo Huts – just under 10km away incorporating a 1,000m increase in altitude.
We walked away from the trees and greenery of the Mandara Huts. With each kilometre we completed, the vegetation around us got sparser and sparser. While we missed the monkeys, the lack of vegetation did mean one thing. The summit of Kilimanjaro was now clearly visible ahead of us. The crater loomed large in front of us while at the same time seemed impossibly far away.
A Busy Trail
Again, we stopped regularly for water breaks and enjoyed our lunch at the side of the path. We continued to take a gentle pace but the higher altitude was already making this a tougher hike than yesterday.
The interesting thing about the Marungu Route is that you take the same path down as you do going up. As such, we met loads of people coming down the mountain who had just completed the summit. It was wonderful to hear words of encouragement from all these happy smiley people.
There is a real sense of community among those attempting to climb Kilimanjaro. Within our own group, a real team spirit was building. For Dave, Sine, and myself, we spent most of our time with the two Australian Doctors who were really great company. We enjoyed the bravado and machismo of the Americans but did have to take them with a little pinch of salt.
The Kilimanjaro Climb Starts to get Tougher
The English Father and Daughter were lovely but had started to feel the strain of the climb a bit as we approached Horombo. As had our stoic compatriot from Ireland. You could sense the nervousness from these three but they remained positive throughout. In fact, the only minor negative was our Swiss Group member. He didn’t appear to like the joviality of the group as we made our way upwards and made some comments that weren’t the most helpful.
Sometime along the journey to Horombo we passed through the clouds and the view when we reached the camp was a spectacular sea of white which seemed to start just below where the camp was situated.
Horombo does have running water and there are (cold) showers available. Some of our group did use these facilities but the evening was cold at this altitude and I didn’t relish the thoughts of trying to warm up after a cold shower so decided against it.
The Horombo Huts were similar if a little more spacious than the previous night’s offering. Like the previous evening, we played cards after a hearty dinner. Excitement was building. Tomorrow night we would be attempting the final ascent of Kilimanjaro.
Horombo Huts (3,705m) to Kibo Huts (4,720m)
Day 3 of Climbing Kilimanjaro entained a c. 8km hike to the Kibo Huts. While 8km seems like a nice easy distance, we were soon over 4,000m altitude. The advice as always was Pole, Pole (slowly, slowly).
With little or no vegetation along the path, the only distraction for us was the summit looming on the horizon.
Kibo is smaller and a lot more basic than Horombo with no running water in the camp. This means the toilet facilities are a particularly unpleasant experience!
The final ascent to the summit of Kilimanjaro starts around midnight. The aim is to reach the top shortly after dawn and then have enough time to make the descent during the daylight hours. The way down is considered the more difficult part of the journey and good light is imperative.
We were advised to get to bed early and try get a few hours sleep in before starting the next part of the journey. I was way too anxious and excited though, and I doubt I got more than 30 minutes sleep in the whole evening. I kept looking at my watch, willing it to have moved on and closer to starting my biggest adventure ever.
Kibo Huts (4,720m) to the Gilman’s Point (5,681m)
We started the summit journey at midnight. The first thing that hit me on leaving the hut was the cold. This was what we had prepared for though and I was grateful for the many layers of clothes that would keep me warm on this frozen night trek.
Fataeli gave the group our last instructions before heading off. The group of 12 was still intact. Pole Pole, Slowly Slowly, was still the main advice.
Our headlamps were the only light in the African darkness as we commenced our final assault to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
The three Americans led the way. Their bravado made sure they wanted to be first in the group. Our Swiss team mate came next. Very confident in his abilities also. Dave, Sine and I were feeling strong and we came next. After us, the consistent and reliable Australian doctors.
Towards the back of the group were the English Father and Daughter and the Irish woman. I could feel their anxiousness even at that the start of the final climb. They had all struggled the previous day. I really hoped they would be able to pull through and get to the top.
The Group Spreads Out
Ultimately, I was still worried about my own abilities. This night climb was the steepest ascent we would face. It was also at the highest altitude. We followed Fataeli and his advice. It is hard to describe how difficult the climb was. Within a couple of hours, all we could do was take four or five steps upwards. Then we needed to stop and catch our breaths. Then we took our next four or five steps. Rinse and repeat.
Within those first couple of hours, our tight knit group started to spread out for the first time. The Americans continued to lead the way. The fact that their boisterousness had disappeared was a clear indication that even they were struggling. Dave, Sine and I followed them closely. Despite the altitude, the training we had done – completing long hikes in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains seemed to be standing to us. The Australian women came a little further behind us but seemed to be making steady progress.
I couldn’t say the same for our English teammates. By this stage they had fallen a long way behind the main group. Our other Irish climber was struggling close to them. The Swiss mountaineer was somewhere between the two parties.
We had tried to encourage them after leaving Kibo but by his stage, there was very little we could do to help. The guides were staying with them and making sure no unnecessary risks were being taken. For us, the most difficult stage on the Kilimanjaro summit was in front of us and we just had to try to make it ourselves up to Gilman’s Point.
The Toughest Section of Climbing Kilmanjaro
Gilman’s Point is at an altitude of 5,681m and signifies reaching the crater rim of Kilimanjaro. The final ascent to Gilman’s point marks the toughest part of climbing Kilimanjaro. We had to scramble in and around boulders with scree underfoot making it very difficult. The difficulty was magnified by the extreme altitude we now found ourselves in. In this section of the ascent, I again was only managing 4 or 5 steps before needing to stop and catch my breath again.
Everyone felt the pain. The Americans struggled but wouldn’t admit to it and kept to the front of the group. Dave, Síne and I followed closely behind. So closely in fact that for much of the final climb, my hand was on the back of the older of the three Americans. Making sure he kept on his feet as we moved upwards.
Síne came next. Afterwards she would tell me, her sole focus was on my feet and following them. Just taking one step at a time. Dave manned the rear of our trio. He had our backs the whole way up to Gilman’s.
Reaching Gilman’s Point
The 6 of us got there eventually. To reach this point in itself was a sense of amazing achievement. The guides had some hot chocolate ready for us and it was a divine tonic for our frozen bones.
The Australians soon clambered up after us. We waited and hoped for the rest of the group. Only one more of our original 12 made it to Gilman’s Point. A beat up looking Irish woman staggered up the Gilman’s Point just as we were preparing to leave for our final leg of the journey. To make it to Gilman’s had taken everything out of her and she could do no more.
As such, only 8 of us made that final stage of the climb to the top of Africa. After traveling nearly 3.5km to get from Kibo to Gilman’s Point (and gaining over 1,500m in altitude), we now undertook to complete the final 1.5km to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Gilman’s Point (5,681m) to Uhuru Peak (5,895m)
Uhuru means Freedom in Swahili. The peak is so named to represent Tanzania’s independence from English rule in the 1960’s. I certainly felt a sense of freedom walking the final 1.5 kilometres to the summit. Not because we no longer had any english people with us, rather for the first time since I had started thinking about climbing Kilimanjaro, I knew for certain that I could reach the top.
That’s not to say the final stretch was easy. One of the American’s puked on the ice on the way. We were at nearly 6,000m of altitude and I found it very tough going too. I just knew though that the hardest part was over and if I could make it this far, I could make it to the top.
And we did. We made it to the top of Kilimanjaro at 8a.m. The whole group of 8 felt such a sense of achievement, joy and elation. It was definitely one of the best moments in my life (ranking up there with getting married, the birth of my son and Westmeath winning the Leinster Football Championship in 2004).
Part of my inspiration for climbing Kilimanjaro was my uncle Dema who had previously summitted Kilimanjaro. Hearing his stories of the climb filled me with huge admiration. I had carried a picture of him at the peak with me to the top. I waited patiently to get a photo of me holding the picture of Dema in the same location. I’d love to see a future generation of my family climbing Kilimanjaro and then getting a picture holding the photo of me holding the photo of Dema.
The wait to get the picture took a while. A lot of people had climbed Kilimanjaro that morning and everyone wanted to capture the moment at the iconic location. Our group got lots of other photos too.
In the euphoria of reaching Uhuru Peak, I think I could have stayed there for hours. Staring in amazement at the African ice and the views over the sea of clouds in the early morning light.
A tap on the shoulder from Sine indicated she had other ideas. She had spent so much energy reaching the top and she needed to go down. Dave, Sine and I took in the final moments at the summit of Kilimanjaro and made ready for our descent.
Coming Down From Kilimanjaro
Getting off the top of Kilimanjaro is just bonkers. I expected carefully plodding down the trail we had come up. Instead we went down via the scree ridden slope of Kilimanjaro.
The advice from the guides involved digging your heels into the loose gravel and sliding down as far as you could. Then repeat the same maneuver again. You got used to it after a while but it was a strange experience. The dust raised from sliding down the sand and stone seemed to get everywhere. I felt dust in my eyes and in my hair. The dirt somehow seeped through every layer of clothing I had worn to protect against the freezing temperatures.
We soon could see the Kibo Huts and we aimed for them. At Kibo, we stopped to take on food and water. Despite having already completed a mammoth task, our day was not yet over. In fact, it was still morning when we reached Kibo. We still had to trek another 10km back to the Horombo Huts for our final night on the mountain. I found the effect of the altitude the strangest as we moved down slope. With every step (or slide or skid) down, I felt my energy levels rising. Added to that, I still felt the buzz from the Uhuru Peak a few hours before. As such, I felt strong for the walk to Horombo.
Back at Kibo
The group reformed again at Kibo. Those who had not reached the top of Kilimanjaro had returned here to rest and recuperate. Coming down from the altitude had helped them no end and they were fully fit again for the homeward journey.
I have huge admiration for the English Father and Daughter. Despite not making the top themselves, they were genuinely happy for everyone that did. Their good nature really shone through as we caught up and shared the stories of our adventures.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for our Swiss teammate. Understandably, he was very upset at not reaching the summit. However, he seemed sullen and kept himself to himself for the majority of the walk to Horombo.
We reached Horombo without any incident. We grabbed dinner in the dining hut and then it was straight to bed. Despite my tiredness after a crazy long day of exertion, I found my second sleep in the Horombo Huts a little unpleasant. The dust, dirt and grit from the mountain seemed to have invaded every pore of my body. As such, my sleeping bag was quite uncomfortable.
I did manage to sleep in fits and starts and the next morning felt well for the final leg of our Kilimanjaro adventure.
Horombo Huts (3,705m) to the Marangu Gate (1,860m)
Day 5 of Kilimanjaro was a straight downhill trek of just under 20km back to our starting point of The Marangu Gate. We tripped lightly along the trail and it felt strange to be going at such a quick pace compared to the struggle we had going the opposite way.
I found it lovely when we met the next groups ascending the mountain. We were now the ones with big smiles on our faces waving and offering encouragement to our fellow mountaineers.
Back to Base Camp
At the Marangu Gate, a bus was waiting to take us back to the Hotel. I was sharing a room with one of the American guys. We tossed a coin to see who would have a shower first. One of the many topics of conversation on our trek down the mountain had been about how we were all longing for a nice warm shower.
While I lost the toss, I didn’t really mind too much. I sat waiting outside our chalet with a lovely view of Kilimanjaro in the distance. It was lovely to just sit and reflect on what I had achieved.
I think I will always remember that shower. It felt like such a luxury to finally be clean again. Absolute bliss!
After my incredibly long shower, I rambled down to the hotel bar. The celebrations were just kicking off. Once we had all gathered, Fataeli presented us with our certificate for climbing Kilimanjaro. Then the Porters and Guides showed us a local dance. The atmosphere felt so happy and carefree. At this point, the custom is to present your designated porter with his tip and to buy and share a few drinks to thank them.
I was delighted to discover that most of the porters were drinking Guinness. I joined them in having some of the lovely pint bottles of the Irish stout. We had such a great time that the bar soon ran out of Guinness. The porters recommended the local alternative which was really nice too. It felt amazing to sit back and have a drink to celebrate everything.
One sour note was that our Swiss member of the group had failed to show up for the celebration party. While we did not necessarily miss him (he had grown more and more obtuse over the last 24 hours), it did mean that there was no tip available for his porter who had lugged his bags up and down the mountain over the last 5 days. Síne and the Australian women helped organise a whip-round from the 11 other climbers to make sure his porter was not left short and everyone was happy again.
The Party Continues
The porters and guides left. The 11 of us decided to keep the party going. The sense of achievement was amazing and the drinks flowed. Soon we had emptied the bar of the local stout. The party kept on going. We partied, we talked rubbish, we sang, we even danced on tables. We had formed a wonderful team over the past 5 days and we enjoyed our last night together so so much.
Eventually, we even drank the bar dry. They had no more beers left to give us. We stayed going and had a couple of whiskeys and shorts before eventually stumbling back to our beds.
And that was that. We had climbed Kilimanjaro and we had the party to end all parties to celebrate it.
The Morning After
We had shook heads the next morning as we all made our separate ways. For me, I found it quite emotional saying goodbye to Dave and Sine. While I was going home to Ireland, they were continuing on traveling the world and going on new adventures in their lives.
My room mate, house mate and best mate over the last 6 years was leaving me. In my drunkenness the night before, I had made a point to Síne that she look after Dave in all their future together. Sine certainly fulfilled that promise. Dave and Sine got married a few years later. I was a groomsman at their wonderful wedding. They now have two beautiful sons. I’m sure they have the most amazing memories of their time traveling together. I am proud that I was there for this lovely part of it.