The Kilimanjaro Experience - an excerpt from Kilimanjaro Diaries

by Eva Sine Thieme

Eva is the author of Kilimanjaro Diaries, who through her book, has vividly described what a Kilimanjaro climbing experience feels like. After speaking to her about her experience, we realized the best way to understand what awaits you on Kilimanjaro, is to vicariously get a glimpse of what a day in the life of a Kilimanjaro trekker is like. This extract from her book describes the end of Day One, which Eva feels gives a good glimpse of the various aspects of climbing Kili - the exhaustion, the gallows' humor, and the stunning beauty. 

An extract from the Kilimanjaro Diaries

"

After almost seven hours of walking we glimpse the camp not far in front of us. I admit that I’m relieved to be here. Throughout the afternoon the path has been so steep that it mostly consisted of huge steps, cut into the slope and reinforced with wooden planks so that it felt like we were climbing up a giant and endless staircase. Each upward stride was so strenuous that we walked pole pole on our own accord and without any admonishments by the guides. No one seemed to have the urge to move any faster, not even the three boys. The reward for our hard work is that we have conquered an astonishing 1,200 meters of elevation in just one day, going from the park gate at 1,800 m above sea level – an elevation already a bit higher than Johannesburg at 1,600 m – all the way to Machame Hut at 3,000 m.

And here, in front of the hut, we are greeted with a welcome sight: Our tents are already waiting for us, ready to be occupied. Except now a slight organizational snag becomes apparent, in that we do not seem to have enough tents among us. Two in our group have signed up for single tents, and yet there are only five tents available for ten people. The obvious solution is to have the two people in single tents – Monia and Martin – team up to share a tent, and Mike immediately appropriates this as his new mission. He’s done a lot of camping in the bush, and he seems to be a fan of sharing tents with virtual strangers.

“Come on, look at Martin here,” he says to Monia with a twinkle in his eye. “Such a handsome lad! It’ll be fun!”

And on he goes, taking turns to describe each of them in more and more glowing terms as a potential tent mate for the other. Martin, utterly exhausted, is too weak to protest, but Monia becomes more horrified with every new embellishment and is very grateful when Goddy presents an alternate solution. It’s actually a bit strange: one moment the tent was missing, and the next it seems to have magically reappeared. This leaves Mike rather disappointed. I have the feeling he enjoys provoking Monia with his lewd jokes, and she always seems to oblige, wandering into his trap like a lamb led to slaughter.

After we’ve moved into our tents and unpacked our few belongings, we are asked to file into Machame Hut to sign our names and professions into the book again – a procedure we are to repeat every night of our climb. After that we are treated to a wonderful dinner in our very own mess tent, overlooking the sea of clouds below. Incredibly, we have already left the rainforest behind us and are camped under the branches of a few smaller trees.

A meal has never tasted better to me, even though our tableware was definitely never destined for any bride’s trousseau. Also, one of the folding chairs is dangerously wobbly, and a nightly game of musical chairs ensues as everyone clamors to avoid it. But the food is good, and plentiful: a big pot of soup, followed by some chicken with potatoes or rice, and a dessert. And always popcorn, nuts, tea, and coffee to our hearts’ content.

If the food is good, the company is even better. We have a grand old time recounting the day’s happenings and peppering Goddy with questions of things to come. We reflect on the fact that we’ve hiked through gloomy rainforest all day, barely ever catching a glimpse of the sun, surrounded by those eerie trees and gigantic ferns, and how unusual it is that we didn’t get rained on once. Even the road we hiked on first, and later the narrow path, were bone dry. I for one thank our good fortune, as I’m quite happy to never find out if the ponchos I bought are indeed waterproof. Maybe picking early September, one of the dry seasons on the mountain, was in fact a good move.

The other good news is, thanks to a combination of pure luck, the layering of socks (thin ones for underneath, and the thick cushy ones for my second layer), and diligently having worn my boots for the last three months (although most often while sitting at my computer), I have no blisters whatsoever. 

Bedtime comes early when you’re on the mountain. Mainly because there is only so long you can linger in a mess tent on slanting chairs (and without alcohol), and also because the warmth of your sleeping bag is beckoning. Max and I try to get comfortable in the confines of our tent, and I ask him about his day. “Good,” he says cheerfully, turns over, and is sound asleep before I can say anything else. I’m glad that he seems happy. I talked him into this hike, after all, and there was a possibility that he wouldn’t like it and – God forbid – announce that he’s turning around after a day. On the other hand, I can already tell that I will have to pull each and every word out of him if I want to find out more about what is going through his head while we live through our adventure.

Since it is only 8:00 PM I don my headlamp and try to read a bit. I brought a book because a friend and previous hiker recommended one to ward off sleeplessness. But it doesn’t take long for my arms to get too cold. I try reading inside my sleeping bag, but that doesn’t work either, because there isn’t enough space to extend my arms to the distance needed for people my age, and no one has thought to put “(1) Reading glasses” on the packing list. After a while I give up, turn off the lamp, and close my eyes.

The downside of turning off your headlamp so early is that this makes for a very long night. Just as I feared, I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. What’s more, I feel the first faint stirrings in my bladder. I crawl out of the tent and look around to locate the toilet tent, which I’ve privately christened Tee-Tee the Toilet Tent. What, do you think, are the chances Tee-Tee will be occupied?

Very high, it turns out. It’s a veritable zoo out there in front of our green toilet tent where several group members have lined up and are patiently waiting their turn. I shiver from the cold and try to pass the time by staring up the mountain, not wanting to engage in conversation because all I really want to do is snuggle back into my sleeping bag and go to sleep.

And then I’m glad I got up, even if it means I had to unzip and re-zip 15 closures in the process. Because the sight is incredible: Kibo – the Kili peak we’re trying to scale, shrouded in clouds and hidden from view all day long – is suddenly towering above us in all its majestic beauty. I can see its snow-covered ridges far above under a moonlit sky, and it looks both foreboding and magnificent. I can also make out tiny lights reflecting off the snow somewhere way up there. At first this puzzles me, but then reality hits me with full force: those lights are other hikers summiting right now in a long line of headlamps.

By the grace of God, that will be us in five days.

"

I hope you enjoyed that excerpt contributed by Eva from her book . If you are looking to read the entire book, it's available on amazon  and in case you're planning a Kilimanjaro climb, you will find a lot of article resources here and you can get the current prices offered by different operators here . If you have climbed Kilimanjaro or have checked off a bucketlist adventure, our readers would be more than happy for you to share your experience!

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