Post by Dr. Quinta (DrQuinta.com)
A couple years ago, I fulfilled my dream of climbing to the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. At 19,341 ft, it is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Several routes are available for climbing the mountain. My group and I used Lemosho which is 7 days round-trip: 5.5 days to reach the summit, and 1.5 days to descend.
Each night we camped on the mountain. We had porters who carried our tents and food up the mountain. They would prepare breakfast for us in the morning after which we would leave them at the camp and begin the day’s hike. They would then pack up the camp and pass us and reach the next camp before we did. By the time we got to the next camp, they would have tea waiting for us and dinner on the way.
I realize this makes it sound like we had it easy but we did not. Hiking at those altitudes is no joke. If we had to carry our own food and equipment on top of that, we probably wouldn’t have made it.Before the trip, I went through a lot of websites looking for information about hiking Kilimanjaro. For the most part they said you don’t need to be fit to climb the mountain. I call bullshit. They are right to say being fit does not help you deal with high altitudes. But hiking for days and climbing thousands of feet requires physical fitness. So don’t head out on a trip like this without working out for a few months. I got a prescription for diamox to help with the altitude. Also, hiking for 7 days helped our bodies adjust to the increasing altitude and increased our chances of reaching the summit.
On summit night, we starting climbing around midnight. We climbed for 6 to 7 hours, arriving at the summit after sunrise. If I had to do the climb over, which I have no intention of doing, I would summit during the day. The temperatures were around minus 18 degrees Celsius. When the sun comes out, it warms the air up considerably. I was so miserable with the cold that I almost didn’t enjoy the moment I reached the summit. The altitude makes you feel like you’re having an out-of-body experience. Your motor skills become delayed. The cold makes you want just give in and close your eyes and go to sleep. While walking. Finally getting to the summit is almost anticlimactic but still very satisfying. And now that the memories of all the difficulties are fading, the moment at the summit seems even more amazing.
Surprisingly, going downhill was harder than going uphill. I still have blood clots under my toe nails from my toes hitting against the front of my hiking boots. But as hard as it all was (the hiking for hours, the camping for days, no showers, the cold), it was worth it all. Now I can proudly say I have climbed the highest fre-standing mountain in the world. And I wouldn’t say we conquered her. I’d say she allowed us the privilege of reaching Uhuru peak, her highest point.