Waking up slowly in my tent on the slopes on Kilimanjaro, I heard camp beginning to stir. Local guides, porters and climbers started to emerge from their tents dotting the Shira I campsite. From a variety of different directions, the common Swahili greeting “Jambo” was being tossed around. In varying degrees of pre-coffee stupor, some just mumbled a reply while others sound like they had been awake for hours; “poa, habari gani kaka?” (good, how are you brother?).
I have just returned to the states from a two-week trip guiding on Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. In the week I have been back home, I keep getting variations on the same question: What was the most amazing part of the Kilimanjaro trip? Unfortunately, I don’t have a concise answer. How is it possible to condense two weeks of climbing and adventuring with an incredible group of people into a few sentences?
My response has slowly become more articulate as I have had time to process and decompress in the stunning Telluride valley I call home. My cliche reply, “the mountain was amazing and the safari was the perfect way to end the trip,” has been thrown by the wayside even though it is entirely true. From the minute we landed to the moment we boarded our flight bound for home, it was the people we worked with, traveled with and met that made this trip incredible. Being greeted at the airport with a warm smile makes that 24 hour travel day to Africa feel way shorter.
What began as simple and short greetings every morning turned into genuine conversations with our local guide staff, discussing family, culture and our respective lives while working our way up the mountain. The evening session playing catch with a foam football even broke through the language barrier that existed with many of the porters. The game slowly expanded from our group of eight to include quite a few of our local crew. So many smiles and good-natured jokes were shared between all involved. After seven days on the mountain, with lots of practice, they were even throwing some pretty good spirals!
The climbing itself was a combination of trekking and scrambling. We elected to climb the Lemosho Route to the Western Breach. It was a great combination in that we enjoyed nice trail and moderate trekking the first few days while we started the acclimatization process and familiarized ourselves with the expedition lifestyle. The Lemosho Route ascends through seven different climate zones allowing for amazing views of monkeys in the rain forest on day one to the spectacular alpine sunrise on summit day. The Western Breach variation was a fantastic addition to our trip. After day three, our group broke off from the standard Lemosho Route, camping at Lava Tower. Here we were able to escape the crowds and enjoy more solitude on the mountain. Only one other group was climbing near us on the upper mountain, compared to approximately ten other groups down low on the Lemosho Route.
Summit day on the Western Breach was comparable to climbing a fourteener in Colorado. The route begins to follow more single-track trail up through old glacial moraines. Up high just below the crater rim, some fun scrambling is required. While it may sound daunting, none of the scrambling was too strenuous and you always felt secure with good foot and hand-holds.
We were treated to an incredible sunrise as we crested the crater rim and worked our way to Uhuru Peak, the summit of Kilimanjaro, at 19,341 feet. Everyone was elated, tears of joy were flowing and the exhaustion of a hard summit day was soon forgotten. We were alone on the summit for the first fifteen minutes we were there, the first climbers to summit on July 26th. After plenty of summit photos and a short (due to the altitude) and sweet summit celebration, we began our long descent down the Mweka Route.
Climbing is so special to me in that it can bring people incredibly close to others in such a short time. Shared experiences in wild places allow us to connect with one another, the electronic walls through which we currently communicate are dropped, we develop strong levels of trust with our teammates and as a result, it leads to genuine interaction that brings us all together. Everyone is pushed to a personal limit and they have to persevere, especially on an expedition-style climb. When people do that together, what results is an experience that is not easily forgotten. Kilimanjaro was the perfect place for our group to push through their limits and stand on the summit of Africa.
After a week on the mountain, the Mountain Trip crew started the true vacation component on our trip. We took a three-day safari through some incredible national parks and conservation areas. Seeing jaguars from thirty feet away, a cheetah and her baby on the hunt, thousands of zebra and wildebeest and many elephants truly rounded out our trip. Spending the night in a Safari Lodge overlooking a watering hole in Tarangire National Park and driving through the lush and animal-filled volcanic crater in Ngorongoro Conservation Area were two highlights of that trip that I cannot wait to revisit.
Thank you to our whole crew. Matt, Avery, Dave, Jacki, Kathy, Anna, and Jake, it was such a blast meeting some of you for the first time and for the others, climbing our third mountain together. I’m already looking forward to our next adventure!