A 210-240 degree panorama of Kibo Crater, the top of Kilimanjaro, from Stella Point.

To the Roof of Africa
A Trek to Kilimanjaro's 19,341 foot Summit

Saturday, July 11, 2015 - Monday, July 20, 2015

by Dennis Foster


Part I - Getting to the Trail - 7/11 to 7/12

Our group - Dewey & Tracy, Michelle & Mark, Kristin & Todd, and Dennis (me).

Click on any picture to see a larger image.

The Arizona Daily Sun ran this article I wrote about this trek to Kilimanjaro.

Kilimanjaro - Part I: Getting to the Trail
Kilimanjaro - Part II: From Forest to Shira II
Kilimanjaro - Part III: From Shira II to Barafu

Kilimanjaro - Part IV: Summit Day
Kilimanjaro - Part V: Descent & Exit
Kilimanjaro - Part VI: A Tale of Two Stories

     It was just before Christmas 2014 and I was about to head up to Denver for my dad's 90th birthday (born on Christmas Day!).  I was watching "The Hobbit" and there is a line about how your adventure can't start until you walk out your front door.  At least, that's the way I remember it.  Since I had been kicking around the idea of hiking up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro for at least two years, that galvanized me to jump on the computer and make it happen.  I can't say that my research was quite thorough nor very organized, but I felt like I had a good sense of what was going on.  The biggest problem everyone must face for this trek is the altitude.  At 19,340 feet, the summit is not something you just decide you want to do on the spur of the moment.  The so-called "effective" oxygen content of the air at this altitude is only half what it is at sea level (10% vs. 21%).
     So, you need to acclimatize yourself for this.  Living at 7,000 feet in Flagstaff, AZ and hiking regularly up to the 9,200 foot summit of Mt. Elden and periodically up to the 12,680 foot summit of Mt. Humphreys gives me an advantage in this regard.  Still, I wanted a long hike to best take advantage of fully acclimatizing.  In reviewing companies I was attracted to Thomson Safaris.  They are on the high end of the price spectrum, although having gone to Antarctica ten years ago I still tend to think that a trip like this one is relatively inexpensive!!  They promised a high success rate, seemed to be very well-focused on catering to the client/tourist and they made a big deal of how well they treat the porters that they hire.  That last point was important to me and it's great that this market can cater to a wide variety of tastes and preferences on the part of the customer (i.e., me).
     I thought I would do more to get into shape in the six-plus months I had before my trip started (I flew out of Phoenix on July 9, 2015).  During the spring I did do an eight day backpacking trek in the Grand Canyon, as usual, so that was a help.  But, after a couple of day hikes down the Grandview trail in April my right knee started to act up and I did nothing for a month.  I saw a doctor who said that everything was fine, structurally.  Whatever it was went away and in late May I once again started climbing up nearby Mt. Elden.  Then the first summer session started at school, where I was teaching two classes.  That exercise burned up my time like crazy, but in June I was still able to do three day hikes up Mt. Elden and one up Mt. Humphreys.  In early July I also hiked twelve miles round trip to Doyle Saddle, which is along the rim, as it were, of the San Francisco Peaks and stands at 10,700 feet.  I felt good.  I felt healthy.  I felt ready to go.

The peaks from Mt. Elden (9200 ft.).

On my way to Humphreys Peak.

Doyle Saddle @ 10,700 ft.

     To get to Kilimanjaro it is highly recommended that you avoid changing flights anywhere in Africa due to additional vaccination requirements.  As it was, there aren't any requirements for Tanzania, although I got the Hepatitis A & B shots, a tetanus booster and I took pills for typhoid.  I opted not to take malaria meds (and that turned out fine - I don't remember seeing any mosquitoes) nor get the yellow fever vaccine.  I did bring along some Diamox, just in case I was suffering from any high altitude sickness and some Ciprofloxacin, an anti-biotic in case I picked up a local bug.  I was also carrying Meloxicam for my knee in case it flared up during the trek.
     I picked a flight itinerary that I thought would be kind to me - at 6 a.m. a 5-hour flight from Phoenix to New York; wait for 4 hours; a 7-hour flight from New York to Amsterdam; wait for 3 hours; a 9-hour flight to Kilimanjaro.  I left on Thursday morning and arrived Friday evening.  With the ten hour time difference (Phoenix to Kilimanjaro) that amounts to a 38 hour trip.
     What didn't I bring?  I didn't bring anything for colds or flu.  Why should I?  Maybe because of the two sickly college students that sat next to me for seven hours from NY to Amsterdam.  I would say that their coughing and sneezing was persistent although not unrelenting.  Still about 40 hours later I was hit hard by cold/flu bug that started off as a very sore throat.  More on that later.
     To prepare for any uncertainty about our luggage arriving with us we were advised to wear our hiking boots and bring necessary clothing in our carry-on.  That way a wayward bag has some time to catch up to us without delaying our start.  None of us had any problems in this regard.  On the hike, we will have porters that will be carrying a bag for each of us, weighing up to 33 pounds.  It can't be your standard type of luggage - we needed soft sided duffels.  That was probably my biggest purchase for this trip for something that I may not ever use again.  I did buy other items, but I think they'll all do duty on later hikes.
     I flew Delta to NY and then KLM the rest of the way.  It seemed that on those KLM flights we were constantly being fed and the alcohol was free, although I didn't want to indulge.  One cool thing about the last leg was that next to the TV monitor embedded in the back of the seat in front of me was a USB port, so I could fully charge my phone without any special adaptors.  During the trip I left my phone in airplane mode and only used it for texting if I could get a free wifi signal - as I did at the airport in Amsterdam and the KIA lodge (after a fashion) in Kilimanjaro.
     There were to be seven of us on this hike, but two (Todd and Kristin) arrived a day or two earlier.  The other five of us (all on the same flight) met at the airport after we passed through customs and found our Thomson driver, Mohdy.  Besides me there were Mark & Michelle, from Houston, and Dewey and his daughter Tracy, from New York.  Mohdy took us to the KIA lodge, which is probably less than a half mile away, and whose property is fenced and guarded (which was true of other places that we saw later). 
The facility has some quaint huts nicely laid out.  It was great to get a shower and to get some real sleep.
      After breakfast the next morning we assembled on the terrace and met Penda, the head guide for our hike.  He
gave us a full briefing on the trip and had rental gear that the others had arranged for.  I was the only one not to rent anything.  It didn't take much time and Penda was soon off and we were ready to make a move to Ndarakwai Ranch, where we would spend the next night.  We headed out at 10:30 a.m. in two Land Rovers.  We seemed to mostly be in rural areas and didn't pass through any heavy city concentrations.  We saw people coming and going everywhere.  There were four primary modes of transportation (not counting cars) - walking (e.g., the woman carrying the bunch of bananas on her head), motorbikes as light delivery vehicles or one-person taxi services, the odd-looking three wheeled cabs and the larger, but still small, microbuses that picked up, and dropped off, people just about anywhere on the road.  It all seemed quite chaotic, but we noticed groups of two, or three, uniformed men and women every half mile or so along more congested parts of our route and Mohdy told us that they were traffic police.
     The roads steadily deteriorated until we were on a dirt road.  Passing boys herding small groups of cattle and the occasional homestead we eventually reached the ranch.  It is part of an 11,000 acre wildlife preserve.  It's also off the grid and seems to have all power generated with solar panels.  Not that there is much use for power - only lighting so far as I could tell.  We each had a hut/tent set up that was rather charming.  Spartan furnishings, water heated only through solar power (it was effective but we were warned that an early morning shower may not be as hot), and very airy.  I found it quite comfortable even if we had to collect our TP in paper bags rather than flush it down the toilet.

Checked duffel and carry-on.

Room at the KIA lodge.

Penda reviews rental gear.

Ready to leave KIA lodge.
The open air dining hut at Ndarakwai Ranch, an 11,000 acre preserve located west of Kilimanjaro.  After dinner a local bush baby came by and was quite entertaining.

Hut tent at Ndarakwai Ranch.

Mohdy drove us around in this Rover.

Sleeping area of hut tent.
     We settled into our huts, ate lunch and then had a couple of hours before a nature walk.  Guiding the walk was Abu who was ready to regale us with many stories about the wildlife here.  We were also accompanied by an armed park ranger, just in case we ran into some dangerous and provocative animals.  We didn't.  But, we did see quite an array of animals.  We had seen some small monkeys and some bushbuck (a small antelope but it looks more like a deer) in the camp area.  Once outside we saw a group of baboons rollicking around in the grass and some impala grazing nearby.  While they seem to be paying little attention to us, all kept their distance from us.  Then we saw giraffes: first just a couple, then a few more, then adults and younger ones.  It was quite amazing to be walking around with them so close.  We saw some zebra, but they were a bit further away.  Only one got close enough for me to get a good photo.  We saw a couple of stray wildebeest; it seemed that they may have been injured and left behind by the herd.  A bit further away from us we saw a family of mongoose scurrying about and we also saw a secretary bird (I recognized it right away since I usually see them in zoos).  It was about dusk when we ended up at a dry water hole where an animal blind had been built for us to use.  They weren't serving up any wildlife, save a couple of wart hogs, but they were serving up local brewskis.
     We got a tantalizing glimpse of Kilimanjaro from the blind, so that was neat.  We headed back from here and ate dinner in the open air dining hut.  We all steered clear of the salad on the recommendation of our driver, Mohdy.  We were warned not to drink, or even brush our teeth, with the local tap water for fear of falling ill.  Mohdy added that while all the food we would have at Ndarakwai would be top notch, the salad would be washed with tap water and so may also be suspect.  After dinner we were treated to a little show by a bush baby.  The locals have gotten it used to being fed by hand, and some in our group got into the act.

A small group of Impala.

Impala buck.

Giraffes were numerous here.

A stray zebra.
Two young giraffes.

Secretary bird walks by.
     At 3 a.m. I got up to use the bathroom and noticed I had started to get a sore throat.  It got worse and kept me from getting much sleep after that.  My throat was scratchy, it was hard to swallow and it was hard to talk.  Later I got a few cough drops from Mark that helped a bit, but I was otherwise totally unprepared for this turn.  And, nobody else was really carrying meds for a cold or flu.  Todd had some allergy meds and I took one of those.  Later I got some Benadryl from Dewey and some Mucinex from Tracy.  Not a very auspicious way to start this hike!!
     We had our duffels weighed to make sure we were under the 33 pound limit - all were.  Then we loaded up in the two Land Rovers for the drive to the Ranger Station where we would check in - Londorosi.  Along the way we passed fields of potatoes and carrots, all harvested by hand and packed into large bags.  I got the distinct impression that this was a very capital-poor sector of the economy.  Besides trucks to carry the produce away it seemed extremely labor intensive.  We also passed a tree farm.  In some of the trees Mohdy called our attention to some colobus monkeys sitting on various branches.  I kept thinking, "You're not in Kansas anymore!"

Kilimanjaro from animal blind.

Camp monkey.

Tour guide Abu sees us off.

Colobus monkeys from the road.
Close up of colobus monkey.

We signed in at Londorosi Gate.
     We met up with Penda at the Londorosi Gate and all had to sign in with the park rangers.  I told him how I felt and he asked me a couple of questions and then said that he was sure I'd be fine.  OK, good enough for me.  He made a big point of not hiding this kind of information from him on the hike and I took him at his word on this and did keep him apprised of my situation.  We were soon back into the Land Rovers and off for the trailhead we would use - the Lemosho Gate.

Best of the rest - Other photos from this part of the trip by the other members of the group.
Click on any picture to see a larger image.

   From Mark:

Cattle and goats crossing road.

Abu talks termites.

We did a nature walk around a small piece of the Ndarakwai Ranch and ended up at this animal blind near a water hole that was mostly dry and so not attracting any animals.

More cattle on the dirt road.

A three-wheeled taxi.

On to Kilimanjaro - Part II page