Do you want to go to the Roof of Africa?
Do you realize how insane that is, how ludicrous it is to even
conceive of climbing to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro? This Tanzanian
peak is almost 6000 meters high, higher than Mount Whitney in California,
Mauna Kea in Hawaii, and Mont Blanc of Europe. The atmosphere's
density is 45% of that at sea level, a dangerous
dearth of breathable air. A fair number of people have actually died
climbing this (nearly?) extinct volcano range, and many more don't
make it to the top. Are you sure you want to climb it? Even the locals
believe it's a crazy thing to do.
Or maybe not. Maybe you just want
to see it, or read about it, from afar, from some place much more
comfortable. We can all understand that. It clearly isn't for everyone.
But among the many things that makes Kilimanjaro (or "Kili",
for short) so special is that it is actually possible to get to the
top without special climbing gear, unlike Mount Everest. Kili is
the highest mountain on Earth with that quality, making it a tempting
target for semi-experienced to experienced hikers worldwide.
Well, our little
group was in that last category. As a group perhaps it might seem we were a
bit ambitious, or overzealous. I mean, the idea of climbing Kili, even after
we actually have done it, still seems a little nuts to me. But when I think
through our preparations, how we chose our equipment, and how we trained in
advance of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, perhaps we weren't too crazy. But, if
there's only one thing I'd like every reader to take away from this, it is:
Be Prepared. We used just about every piece of equipment we had, and brought
to bear every experience we had about hiking, physical exertion, and survival.
While it wasn't easy, we climbed it, and I think we climbed that mountain well.
Our little group
consisted of five members. In no particular order: Catherine, born in Northern
California, currently working in the Los Angeles area for an aerospace company;
Darrell, from Canada, an experienced skiier and climber, now working
for a high-tech company in Southern California; Siina, from Finland, currently
studying at Stanford in graduate engineering; Freddy, from Sweden,
working for a government research lab in Northern California; and Dean (that's
me), born in Southern California, presently running a high-tech small business
in Orange County. Our little group is quite internationally diverse:
a Swede, a Fin, a Canadian, plus two from California. How we met is another
It took us a while
to decide to go to Kilimanjaro. When we finally decided it was a go, we went
with Klub Afriko, a tour company based in Arusha, Tanzania. Freddy was quite
thorough, scouring the 'net for such companies, and asking for references and
the recommendations of many others. We asked for the climb to use the Shira
plateau route, one that takes longer than the more commonly used routes like
Mweka or Machame, but we knew we should take because it brings us to a higher
elevation quickly then keeps us at altitude for a few days. Staying at high
altitude gives our bodies the best chance to acclimate, in preparation for
the eventual hike to the peak. In retrospect, we found we made the right choice,
for many reasons. In fact, our guides Urassa and Mohammed told us that it
was their favorite approach to the mountain, and confirmed it was a good choice.
Klub Afriko introduced
and recommended Urassa and Mohammed as our guides for the Kilimanjaro climb.
It is the guides' responsibility to organize the porters, the food, the general
camping gear (tents, etc.), the specific route, and the campsites, and to manage
the overall climb. They are also meant to watch us for signs of trouble during
the hike. We feel these two did their jobs superbly. In fact, Urassa showed
up at the airport to help receive us, without telling us he was to guide us
the next day. Perhaps he was estimating our abilities, or evaluating our personalities.
In any case, we found these two knew the terrain well, with experience on all
the major trails. Urassa told us that he's been to the top of Kilimanjaro over
a hundred times; Mohammed even more. After seeing how they performed on the
climb, we have every reason to believe them.
Prior to our flight
for Africa, we trained with a series of hikes in California. While Siina
and Freddy primarily used the Northern Californian mountains, Catherine
and I trained in Southern California. With the help of our friends Michelle
and Kevin, we hiked in the San Angeles forest and San Bernandino mountains
in the months prior to leaving in August for Africa. We practiced using
our equipment, including video and photography, which helped revise
what we did and how we expected to use it. More importantly, we learned
a number of good lessons about what to do and what not to do when hiking
as a group, keeping together and pacing ourselves. Some of that was learned
the hard way, and as a result Catherine and I learned that we can sleep
outdoors at high altitude.
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