This weekend I accomplished something that most can’t say that have: I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. With its summit at 19,341 feet above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Africa and also the highest free-standing mountain in the world. You might be thinking to yourself, “Wow, you climbed 19,341 feet! That’s impressive!” Although it was quite an accomplishment for me, I should also mention that we only climbed to the first hut of the mountain, which is at about 9,000 feet above sea level. So, even though we didn’t climb all the way up Mount Kilimanjaro, it is still pretty impressive that we climbed almost halfway up the behemoth that is Mount Kilimanjaro!
There are two main routes up Kilimanjaro: the “whiskey” route, which is much more difficult and for the more experienced climbers and the “coca-cola” route which is the easier, more novice route. The route we were taking would take most people about six days to get up the mountain although many people we talked to (including our guides) said it takes them only about two days. From the start gate to the Mandara hut, which is the first hut on the “coca-cola” route (and our end point up the mountain), it was supposed to take three hours.
I started the climb trying to prove all of those on the trip that doubted I could get up the mountain wrong by leading the pack with our very speedy guide Arnold (who was an experienced climber). The first hour and a half of the climb was not too bad. I’m not going to lie, I sweat through my whole shirt in that time and had to take plenty of water breaks. Also, the nature during our walk was incredible! Most of the climb was red dirt or rocky paths surrounded by lush green tropical trees and the occasional waterfall. I spent a lot of the climb just looking around at the beautiful nature that surrounded me.
After we stopped for a quick bathroom break halfway up, we continued up the mountain. I was ready to conquer the rest of the mountain at that point. That feeling quickly faded. The second half of the climb was much harder. The terrain started to change from nice, smooth, gradual dirt paths to rocky, steep hills. I don’t mean a steep hill every once in a while, I mean endless steep hills. About an hour in I started slowing down a lot. The rest of the group got ahead of me, so I hung back with the slower group. We got to a point where we would climb a small hill and rest for about five minutes. A group of avid climbers passed us and kept telling us “Pole Pole”, which in Kiswahili means “slowly, slowly”. They said that we should climb up slowly and try not to take many breaks. We took their slowly advise but we just had to stop and catch our breath a lot! I’m not going to lie, there were a couple points toward the top where I felt strongly considered turning around and heading back down. The only thing that kept me going was to prove to myself and the others on the trip that I could make it! Finally after close to three hours of climbing we reached the Mandara hut at 9,000 feet. The relief of seeing those huts and some of our group was great!
We all sat at the hut and ate our lunches for a while and then headed back down the mountain. Although it wasn’t as physically demanding to climb down the mountain, it was still tough because we had to take it slow and avoid slipping on rocks. What was supposed to be an hour and a half hike down the mountain turned into about a two and a half hour hike. Finally, at around 6:00pm (6.5 hours after we started climbing), we reached the start gate. Along with the aches and pains and extreme exhaustion I felt when I finally reached the gate, I also felt a ton of pride that I had conquered something I never dreamed I would have. Overall it was an excellent (and tiring) experience that I will never forget!