Africa Guide
Guide to Africa

Climbing Kilimanjaro - The Marangu Route

From experience, what you won't see is the summit from the ground.
That comes past Horombo Hut, on the day of the night you start walking to the top

On the trail up the Marangu Route, Kilimanjaro
On the trail up the Marangu Route, Kilimanjaro

'Hakuna kulala' means you slept badly. No-one likes complainers, so say 'Napenda kila mtu,' 'I love everyone,' and something like 'Tunaomba bia twangezee kama tutwyo,' 'another round of beers.'

Say 'Jumbo. Mambo?' Hey, what's up? To 'Habari (how are you?) say 'mzuri sana' (very good) and 'poa kichizi kama ndizi' (cool as bananas).

The Mangaru ('Coca-Cola') track is wide and you stay in huts with lots of people. Mandara Hut is 2720m, Horombo is 3780m and Kibo 4700m. The summit is 5896m. Mt. Cook is smaller.

You walk the same track down that you took up. Hundreds of porters in holey slippers with tin boxes and bags on their heads will pass you. Dennis is our Assistant guide and he jokes with them, 'Buy you a beer when I get back!'

Dennis doesn't drink or smoke. Our Guide Richard smoked ¼ of a cigarette at 5898m. Everybody knows Richard. He's the man of the mountain and well respected.

Louise and I were Richard's first all-female group. Lou was 'Queen of Kilimanjaro,' a 30-year-old South African London-passport-in-the-making marathon runner, smoker, drinker, dancer, and lover of a lot, teller of tall tales.

The malaria tablets made me dizzy. They made my head and nose burn. 2 weeks later I peeled off skin like Canadian snowflakes.

A person who has never been to Tibet might say Horombo camp has a Tibetan-like feel. The mist swirls around men in jackets and hats, crouching with flasks of tea, mingling with cigarette smoke puffed on half-lungs. Bloodshot eyes are yellow in black faces. I felt an earthquake. The biggest in 50 years. It's only dormant, you know.

Go out late at night when it's clear and a billion stars hang just above your head.

Be sure to dance the cloud-clearing dance and the sun will beam African goodness. Walking in your t-shirt, your face will burn and husks of afternoon tea popcorn irritate your throat. Eating by candlelight at a long table with other groups you say to your cook, 'chakula kizuri' (the food is good) and 'asante sana' (thank you very much). Richard will join you between cigarettes.

The desert is crowned by snow and black rocks. Alpine desert is blending colours and lava statues and a superbowl skyline. Your mind clogs and you stop mid-conversation. Go 'pole pole' to make it to the top. It's impossible to know what you can expect from your body. Drink lots of sugared Kenyan tea.

Kilimanjaro water, filtered through kilometers of volcanic rock, comes in a plastic bottle. It's a cheap souvenir, the label a blue printed picture of the summit viewed from the ground, which you more than likely will never see.

Uhuru Peak
Uhuru Peak

At Kibo, time is slow between 2.30pm and 11pm and going to the toilet at 4700m, you're breathless. Put your torch in your mouth and squat.

Near the top of the African world at 3am, Bob Marley's melodies soften the cold. There is no silence under frozen stars; hacking coughs interrupt tribal rhythms, tumbling rocks drum, and from all around the black-night choir sings.

Between 4700m and 5680m every thought is profound. Plan the email you will write when it's over. Breathing the recommended amount of oxygen in two days time, this email won't make sense.

From Gilmore's Point (5680) you walk the iced-over snow of the crater rim. It is tricky, freezing, windy. Then the sun will rise and it is, as Lou said, 'Heaven.'

Looking over cloud from Uhuru Peak (5895m), the world, as you know it, it doesn't exist. Mt Meru is the only break. Kilimanjaro's shadow is a grey triangle.

Richard wanted to be my boyfriend. Walking ahead, down the ice, he put his arm around me, smelling smoke and sweat. He took my bag that night, held my hand and fed me water. We surfed the scree arm in arm. At the bottom you are a dirty smelly dust ball.

It's impossible to eat when you are up there. You'll vomit. And even though you are on a mountain, going hard, Spam is still a crime.

Drinking your celebratory Kilimanjaro beer(s) with new friends at 3700m, you'll feel fantastic.

When it was finished, weeks later, I told people it wasn't overly challenging. I said, 'I've done harder things.' On the 19th of July, the morning of the summit, I had written: 'one of life's true challenges. Bloody HARD.' I continued: 'Found it hard to get up there. Lots of dizziness, bad balance, body flushes, so hard to get breath, headaches at times, pounding heartbeat, watery nose, freezing, can't see, trying to drink, mass nausea, farting…'

Your email home will say: 'Life is - I am so lucky. Supreme.' That is, if the internet works and it probably won't.

Bussing from Moshi to Arusha to Nairobi will take a day. At the border aggressive Maasai women could be holding guns instead of beads. The round manyattas built with dung, sticks and straw are still standing, goats bleating behind thorns keeping elephants out. Listen to Paul Simon on your ipod.

At Comfort Inn in Nairobi, hand washing your clothes, you'll be shattered and sunburned. Lie beneath your mosquito net, listen to the car alarms, and look to the stars.

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