Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro- 7 days on the Machame Route
Updated: Feb 2
In March of 2018 my friend Sofia and I joined 21 other women to trek the Machame Route of Mt. Kilimanjaro for International Women's Day. This trip was a trek put on by WHOA Travel and was an absolutely fantastic (albeit challenging) experience which I would highly recommend for anyone who feels inclined and is physically and emotionally up for the challenge. I will write more about other aspects of the trip in different posts, but in this one I want to share a breakdown of my 7 days on the trail.
Machame Gate to Machame Camp: Elevation: 5900-9850 ft, 6.8 miles
On the first day I joined these incredible ladies and the amazing guides and porters from Trek2Kili as we started our journey from Machame Gate to Machame Camp. It was a beautiful easy climb through the rainforest climate zone and we were able to spot some monkeys at the start! The temperature here was quite warm and humid and the scenery very green. We were all generally in really good spirits and hiked for about 6 hours on a pretty straightforward trail until making it to camp, where we arrived to a music and dance party- an incredible aspect of the trip provided by the amazing guides and porters who treated us to glamping extravagance.
Machame Camp to Shira Camp: Elevation 9800-13000 ft, 3.1 miles
The next day we spent some time hiking and scrambling on rocks across the climate zone known as the Heath and the Moorlands. The ground and flora were mossy and wet. The views were stunning. We hiked for only a few hours this day, but consistently up and up. It was here I really started to get a feel that we were climbing this incredibly vast and massive mountain. We crossed several waterfalls on our hike before landing at Shira Cave Camp.
Shira Camp to Barranco Camp via Lava Tower: Elevation 13000- 15000- 13000 ft, 6.2 miles
We hiked up through the Moorlands and into the Alpine Desert climate zone where we got our first real taste of both altitude and snow at Lava Tower. It felt extremely cold at the Lava Tower and as we sat down for lunch I started to become quite nervous about how cold I felt- given that we were still at a relatively moderate altitude (15000 ft) and climate. After lunch at Lava Tower we trudged through the snow back down to Barranco Camp. The purpose of hiking up to Lava Tower and then back down to a similar elevation is to give the body time to acclimate to what would be increasingly higher altitudes.
On the way to Barranco camp we saw these wacky Senecio Kilimanjari trees which reminded us all of something out of a Dr. Suess book. The views of the peaks above us also started to become more visible and were stunningly beautiful.
The evening of day 3 was also when I began to really feel a bit of the altitude sickness and fatigue from the exertion of the days prior. I was not alone in these feelings and some of the other group members had already begun to feel quite ill. Still waking up to this view in the morning was beyond stunning and helped us to feel fortified to start another day.
Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp: Elevation 13000- 13125 ft, 3.1 miles
This is the only photo I took on this day because I was busy trying not to die as we climbed the Barranco Wall to Karanga Camp!! It was a beautiful and at times very fun adventure that left me feeling exhilarated. We woke up and immediately scampered and scrambled up the wet rocks on the cliffside. It was an incredible feat for me as I have some fear of heights and would never normally have considered scrambling up such a steep wall, but we'd made it this far and I was not inclined to give up! There were a few moments where I was literally shaking with fear. One of such moments came as we were crossing the famous Kissing Rock- a spot named for the way you have to cross this gap with you face pressed against a giant boulder in front of you while holding on in a hugging gesture. While Sofia, my tall friend, said she could just step easily across, I had to hang on and hop with my short chubby legs as the ground loomed way below. Still it was a beautiful trek and I felt immensely grateful when we arrived to Karanga camp where we could rest for the night.
You also might notice this day's hike was only 3.1 miles, which on paper looks like nothing- heck, I walk that far to work every day- but, in this case, was spent scuttling up a vertically challenging set of boulders. This was not your average hiking trail! It took a lot of upper body work and it we were on the move for about 5 hours before we arrived to camp.
Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp: 13125- 15700 ft, 2.5 miles
We woke up at Karanga Camp to lots of rain, but as we left to start our hike saw this beautiful set of double rainbows. I had had a rough morning already in which I was quite sick from the altitude and had thrown up my breakfast, but seeing these rainbows seemed like a great sign to start the day which would eventually lead us to Summit Night! We walked back through the Alpine Desert with cool rocks and some human made formations and up into the snow of Kosovo Camp which is at about 15700 ft. At Kosovo Camp we were able to nap in our tents in the snow in order to get ready to wake up in the middle of the night to summit!
On the way to Kosovo Camp we also caught views of one of Kilimanjaro's two other peaks, known as Mawenzi.
Day 6! Summit Night!
Barafu Camp to Uhuru Peak to Millenium Camp: Elevation 15000- 19340- 12500 ft, 3.1 mile climb 6.8 mile descent
Day 6 was summit night and it was a wild ride! After dinner and a nap we got up around midnight and hiked about 6 hours up from our basecamp to Uhuru Peak. I started out feeling strong but a few hours in I started to feel pretty maxed out. The elevation was getting to me and I felt I needed to break every few minutes to catch my breath. Taking breaks at this altitude and in the extreme cold and snow is a bit dangerous as hypothermia can develop very quickly. Because of this, our summit guide, Nelson, hurried us along and we kept on moving. At one point I became concerned I would not make it to the top because I was so tired, but I was grateful to have my fellow summit-mate, Tiffany, and Nelson encouraging me on. We kept trudging up, up, up and eventually made it to Stella Point just as the sun was rising. Then it was a pretty smooth mellow walk out to Uhuru Peak.
The dawn lights on the surrounding glaciers were unbelievably beautiful, but due to my being super cold, totally exhausted, and delirious from altitude it was hard for me to focus on taking it all in. Still the image of the pink, purple, and orange light on the giant ice mountains were amazing and totally surreal. I will never forget the look of these glaciers at dawn. The next two photos were taken by my fellow WHOA hiker Tiffany that same morning.
We summited Uhuru Peak around 6:30am!!! We were very lucky to have clear skies at the summit. The feeling of having accomplished this portion of the trek was magical.
We then had a ridiculous slip slidey snow hike back to base camp. The snow was quite deep and it was at this point I felt the most challenged of the whole experience. At one point I actually considered it might be worthwhile to lay down in the snow and never get up again! Fortunately, I did not make that choice and eventually arrived back to camp where I collapsed, cried tears of relief and exhaustion, and took a nap. After our naps we had a very nice hike down to Millenium Camp where we had dinner and spent the night, feeling a sense of deep accomplishment.
Day 7! Last day!
Millenium Camp to Moshi: Elevation 12500- 5900 ft, 8 miles
On the 7th day we hiked down, down, down through all the various terrains and to the back gate of Kilimanjaro National Park where beers (and later pizza) were waiting for us! We were all so excited to be getting back to the gate that we made incredibly good time despite the challenging downhill descent. We got to share in the sense of accomplishment and our ambivalent and varied feelings about saying goodbye to the mountain we had called home over the last week. At the base of the mountain our last dance party awaited us and we enjoyed celebration together.
From this post:
The trek I went on was put on by WHOA Travel. They were absolutelt wonderful and put on a variety of trips including Machu Picchu, Elbrus, Mongolia, Japan, and Everest Base Camp.
The porters and guides were all a part of Trek2Kili. They were AMAZING and I would trust my life in their hands. They are also thought to be a better provider in terms of worker conditions than many others on Kilimanjaro.
We were asked by our porters and guides to support the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project which does advocacy work for porter and guide's rights and working conditions. Unfortunately, even under their guidelines pay is still way too low, but for now it is better than not.
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