Follow the footsteps of Mountain Madness client Sarah on Mount Kilimanjaro
Shortly after the first time we made it to the summit of Mount Rainier, we knew we had caught the climbing bug. All other vacation ideas flew out the window; we concluded we wanted to travel the world and incorporate climbing into each trip.
Have you ever blessed the rains in Africa? Never in a million years did I think I would and one Sunday night, we were on the Mountain Madness website pouring over the numerous expeditions and mountaineering trips they had listed. We decided right then and there we had to book Kilimanjaro – the tallest mountain on the African continent. Just like that, we had the first of our Seven summits booked! While Kilimanjaro is by no means a technical climb, it definitely has its own challenges which make the rewards that much sweeter!
We counted down the days until we could hop on a plane and fly to Tanzania but in the meantime, we had to get our bodies ready! We made sure to stay in shape and constantly train for the 19,310’ beast of a mountain. It is true that almost anyone can climb Kilimanjaro with the proper dedication, fitness level and the motivation to do so. Our training consisted of running, StairMaster, circuit training, and most importantly pack training. Pack training is also known as “the devil” in our household because while it is so beneficial for climbing it is also exhausting! Throwing 20, 30, or 40 pounds into a pack and either heading up to the local trailhead (or during the dreary winter months in Seattle, an inclined treadmill,) can seem daunting but in the end, it will land you on the summit! When we actually climbed Kilimanjaro our pack weights during the daily treks never exceeded 15 pounds thanks to the amazing local porters that are with you every step of the way, and having trained with a 40-pound pack at sea level made all the difference when taking step after step at high altitude!
Finally, the day had come when it was time to head to Africa; it was so hard to believe that we were actually going on this amazing journey. Mountain Madness had all the logistics laid out and the information packet pre-climb had everything we needed to know from Visa information down to the best type of undies to wear while climbing! Any additional questions we came up with during our preparation for the trip and climb were answered within a few hours (on occasion within a few minutes) via email or phone calls to the office. I was so stoked to travel abroad with a company that is just as Type A personality as I am in regard to planning and organization. We boarded our plane at Sea-Tac with peace of mind and zero stress knowing that once we arrived in Tanzania the Mountain Madness team would be there to greet us and take care of us until it was time to return to the States!
After a very long travel day (and night) we caught our last plane from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro airport. The morning was overcast and all we wanted to see was a sneak peak of the mountain we were about to tackle. We sipped on some South African wine (yes it was 9:30 am but hey, it was vacation, right!?) and had our eyes glued to the window waiting to catch a glimpse of Kili (evidently once you climb Kilimanjaro you are allowed to refer to it as Kili). The clouds broke for just a split second as we came in for our landing at the airport and we could see a huge snow shrouded summit in the distance. I cannot describe to you the feeling of butterflies and excitement that made my stomach do somersaults once seeing that! Let’s do this!
We stepped off the plane and were embraced by warm weather and gorgeous backdrops of Tanzania. We could not stop smiling and still could not believe that we were there. We snagged our luggage and stepped outside and waiting for us was my all-time favorite sign with the Mountain Madness logo on it and we met two of our guides that would be with us for the next two weeks! We hopped into the sweetest ride I can imagine; a converted SUV that was perfect for the rugged terrain in Africa and which would also be our escort post climb when we headed off on Safari!
Our first day in Tanzania, as we headed to our luxury camp, we could not believe our eyes – we immediately saw baboons running across the road, warthogs and meerkats running around in packs (I literally could not believe I just stepped onto the set of Lion King), as well as colorful spectacular birds! Dream come true! Once we arrived at our camp we were blown away by the accommodations. I had heard rumors of the luxury tents that Mountain Madness clients stay in before the climb, but I could not believe it until I actually saw it. We had our own private tent that looked like a huge canvas room from the outside but once you stepped in you were transported to the most incredible African themed hotel room. Queen size bed, tables and dressers, even our own private bath, and the loveliest décor. I could stay in this tent all week!
We unpacked a bit and napped before being called to an early dinner where our chef prepared more food than we could possibly eat (but we managed to lick our plates clean; I mean nutrition for the mountains am I right??) We stayed up sipping wine and talking with our assistant guide for our climb, Tim. Tim has the most amazing background and is a very talented climber, skier, and ice climber. Originally from Tanzania but speaks 4 or more languages fluently and we found out that evening his father had even climbed with Scott Fischer himself (swoon). We looked forward to spending the next 2 weeks with Tim and could not wait to meet the rest of our group for the climb the next day. We retired to our tent and welcomed the long night of sleep after our days of travel, but little did we know how many animals would be wandering around our tent that night! Monkeys were howling and running right next to our tent in addition to water buffalo and baboons. It was just magical.
The next morning, we met the other clients in our group as well as our lead guide, Ben. Ben has been guiding on Kilimanjaro for decades and knows the mountain inside and out. He was by far the most jovial person I have ever met. His smile is infectious and the amount he cares for his clients far exceeded my expectations for the climb. He gave us a history lesson about the region, the people, the traditions, and the mountain. The more he talked the more everyone in our group became excited about the climb that started the next day. We did a day hike around camp to begin our acclimatization and came across gorgeous waterfalls and majestic trees, I kept having to pinch myself that I was actually out there and able to take all of this in!
The next day was the beginning of the climb. We packed up and drove through the countryside and saw villages you read about in history books. We made several pit-stops to allow cattle and goats to cross the dirt road as we traversed closer and closer to Kilimanjaro. We arrived at the gate of the mountain (one of the many entrances and trails that one can use to climb Kilimanjaro) and hopped out of the car and geared up for the climb!
The porters had lunch waiting for us prior to our official departure and we met the head chef of the expedition, he preferred to be called “Doc” or “the Doctor” which we quickly realized was because he was a master of his trade. His high-altitude cooking skills blew us away at every meal on the mountain for the next eight days. Doc was soft spoken but had the best giggle ever and boy could he cook!
Right after lunch we met our personal porters. I still keep in contact with Muhammad to this day because he was so great! After climbing in the PNW cascades where we were responsible for carrying our 50 – 60 pound packs, setting up our campsites and tents, and cooking all our own meals it was such a treat to be able to step back and have some help with gear and tents on a week long climb. As much as we insisted on carrying more weight and helping with the camps our team of porters flew ahead of us on the trails and had the camp set up long before any of the clients arrived. It was unbelievable to see how much weight the local porters could carry at high altitude and how much they enjoyed doing it.
The next 7 days were nothing short of incredible. The acclimatization schedule that Mountain Madness utilizes pretty much guarantees a successful summit, even for individuals that come in from sea level. Not once did we have any illness or discomfort while climbing up in elevation. The fact that Doc kept our bellies full and we had more than enough water to stay hydrated and to stave off any altitude issues was most certainly beneficial. The hikes each day were broken up and very manageable, even for the 70-year old gentleman who was a client in our group!
Each day we would wake up, have a fantastic breakfast, pack our day packs and then head on up through the various climate zones. Something that I did not realize before climbing this route was that Mountain Madness clients are permitted to climb where other people taking the more traditional routes cannot climb. Aside from 2 days on our journey, our crew was completely alone and the only ones on the trail. It honestly felt as though we had the entire mountain to ourselves. This was truly made apparent the night before our summit attempt when we literally camped in the summit crater of Kilimanjaro. We were sleeping right next to glaciers – the only people sleeping that high up on the entire continent of Africa; to this day, this site is my favorite camp that I have yet to encounter.
Sleeping in the summit crater is not only breathtaking and a chance of a lifetime, but also means that on summit day you are only about 45 – 60 minutes away from stepping onto the roof of the African Continent: Uhuru Peak. We were the first to summit that day and the second you see that all too familiar summit sign in the distance I guarantee the tears will start to flow. Being the only ones on the summit of a popular peak is a rare occasion but thanks to Mountain Madness they really did “Make it Happen”. We had time to relish our accomplishment, celebrate with our team, and take as many damn pictures as we wanted!! Summit days are the best days!
Finally, it was time to head back down the mountain, it is amazing how fast you can descend 9000 feet in one day! The descent was very enjoyable because it was different from the way we came up, so all the terrain was new, and the sights were different. We had one more sleep on the mountain and Doc cooked us a hell of a celebratory dinner. We crawled into our tents one last night and relished all that we had accomplished that day.
Our final morning on the mountain was the most memorable for me, there was a celebration with the team that is hard to put into words, you have to experience it for yourself. After that, we trekked out to the exit at the base of Kilimanjaro. Just as when we had arrived at the mountain, the crew had a fantastic lunch (and surprise champagne) waiting for us prior to hopping into the car to heading to a shower! in addition to the champagne the shop at the gate also sells the infamous Kilimanjaro beer (which we thought would be bad luck to drink prior to a summit, but now it was time to drink up!).
We said ‘bye to the team that had taken care of us for the last 8 days on the mountain and headed to the hotel for some well-deserved showers!!! Everyone was still on cloud nine after the adventure we had just been on. We had one final celebration with Tim and Ben, and I did not want to say goodbye to everyone! Jeremy and I were headed on safari the next morning, but our two buddies we climbed with were headed out on flights that night and Tim and Ben were heading back home to their families.
Trip of a lifetime is an understatement. I will cherish every moment. I would write about the safari portion after the climb but that might take up 100 more pages … I will let you know that going on safari is a must. It is the perfect way to relax after climbing up that mountain! Jeremy and I felt as though we were in an adult playground for the next three days.
It is safe to say that we blessed the rains in Africa (will that song be forever stuck in my head? I have no problem with it if it is!). Immediately after this incredible journey we were quick to book our next trip with Mountain Madness – Russia anyone?? What’s next!!??