Emily’s Cliffhanger – Kilimanjaro


A place many dream to climb but fear to do. For myself, I never dreamed to climb it nor have I ever feared the mountain alone. When I first decided I was going to Tanzania I did research on things that I could do on the weekends. Top picks like safari, Maasai village, Zanzibar, and Kilimanjaro. After putting a lot of thought into it I decided that climbing to the Roof of Africa is something I couldn’t pass up. This may be the part where you think I spent months on end training for this climb, but honestly that’s not how the story goes. Weeks before my departure to Tanzania I scrounged up every possible hiking gear I owned, bought a pair of hiking boots, and hoped for the best going forward. Once I arrived in country I figured at some point in the two months I would find a tour group and enough volunteers who would want to climb with me.

To any of the readers who dream to climb please don’t let what I have to say scare you away, if anything I hope I’m able to persuade your decision on climbing the most beautiful mountain. Shall we begin? After a month in Tanzania I met some of the most incredible human beings. People I can’t see myself living without. Anyways… I was able to round up four other girls to climb Kilimanjaro with me, and without them I don’t know how the hell I would’ve summit that mountain. October 21st, we left Arusha to stay in Moshi for the night. Monkey Adventures (the tour group we decided to go with) stopped into the hostel where we were staying at to go over our pack list for the next six days. After running through everything on what to expect, what to pack, and signing our lives away we rested up for the big day. On October 22nd, 2017 at 8:00 am, Monkey Adventures picked us up and we left for our adventure. We drove to the rental place to pick any extra gear that may be needed on this journey. Nonetheless, we were dealing with a real heavy dose of African time. While I thought we would be starting our hike at nine or ten in the morning, we didn’t actually start until almost 2 o’clock.

DAY ONE:

After about three or four hours waiting at the bottom of Machame route entrance we finally set off for the next six days. The first day was probably one of the best days and here’s why, IT DIDN’T RAIN! This may or may not be a key point in this story so get ready. Walking 4 hours up a gradual incline wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We passed some of the most incredible sceneries I’ve seen yet in this life. Passing impatient Kilimanjaro plants, vines that made me feel as if I was walking through the Tarzan movie, and breathing in the wet smell of trees and moss. I remember it being so surreal. After a few hours of hiking we finally reached our first camp for the night. With minutes to spare we were able to catch the sunset over the top of Kilimanjaro. Little did we know this was going to be the only sunset we would see on the mountain. Lesson number one: appreciate the little things in the moment because you never know what’ll be next. After signing into camp we changed into different clothes, and sat down for our first dinner on the mountain. We started the meal off with a hot cup of tea and popcorn, and after we were served with a delicious stew! Once we finished eating we gathered our belongings and headed to bed.

DAY TWO:

After drinking 4 liters of water during the previous day, of course, I was going to have to pee during the night. I had woken up at midnight and three am, but the difference between both times of waking up was that at midnight when I stepped outside the tent I remember looking up to a galaxy of stars, but at 3 am I was woken up by a peaceful sound of rain hitting the tent.  At 5:50 am I am woken up to the tapping on the outside of my tent. Jonathan and Hussen are waiting ever so patiently outside with hot water for our tea and coffee. After a few attempts of waking Callie up I decided to let Jonathan do the rest of the work. Hardly awake I dress myself, pack my bag for the day, and roll up my sleeping bag. As I stepped outside the tent the guys are standing there smiling from ear to ear. I grabbed the tea they made for me and walked fast to the mess tent, trying not to get soaked before our six to eight-hour hike. Ellen and I both waited for the rest of the girls to pile in. Once everyone arrived we were served our first portion of breakfast, porridge. I can’t say it was my favorite part of the meal but I tried my best to at least get a few sips in. We were then served a platter of eggs, toast, sausage, and fruit. That my friends was much more enjoyable to eat. By 7-7:30 we set out for our hike. Walking pole pole (slowly slowly) we hiked 6 hours through the thick fog, pouring rain, and cold temperatures. I remember only being an hour or two into the hike and being completely soaked from head to toe. The walk itself wasn’t half bad. I carefully watched my footing on the wet rocks and tried to enjoy the scenery as much as possible. The fog seemed to really take away from the beauty of the mountain but I still found it to be an incredible view. After hours of stopping numerous times to chase the monkey and shivering like no tomorrow, we finally arrived to camp for the night. Wet, cold, and tired the only thing we wanted was our dry tent. Unfortunately that’s not what we got. Our bags that the porters had carried up the mountain for us no longer had dry clothes in it, instead we were stuck with changing into damp or even soaked clothes. Some sleeping bags got wet and the mattresses we were supposed to sleep on were wet as well. Miserable was the only word coming to mind at the moment. We ate dinner and miserably went back to the tent for the night.

DAY THREE:

Another morning being woken up to the tapping outside our tent. I didn’t sleep well during the night, and by well I mean at all. I dressed myself, packed my bags, rolled my sleeping bag up, and headed for the mess tent. As I stepped outside the tent I looked up to a slightly sunny but foggy morning. It didn’t look 100% promising but I would take it. The mountain was stunning. Almost something you would see out of a movie. From a distance a tour group was singing and dancing to the KILIMANJARO song. Lesson number two: find a career that you couldn’t imagine going a day without. Hearing the happiness in their voices and the smiles that were ever-so radiant it made me think twice on my future career. I continued on and sat down for breakfast. Callie, Gemma, Ellen, Danielle and I all prayed to the mountain gods that today was going to be rain free day. Tino and Emmanuel talked about our day to come and by 7:30 we were off for the day. The first two hours was absolutely peaceful. I slowly found myself getting lost into my thoughts. Thinking about everything and anything. I always heard people say stuff about the mountain curing all problems and that alone is a fact that I can stand by. After two hours the rain started to come again. Luckily we only had an hour or two longer until we reached Lava Tower. We were only at Lava Tower to acclimate to the elevation and eat lunch. Wet and cold once again we made our way down in elevation to Barranco Camp for the night. We walked through Moorland to the alpine desert. It was all so beautiful. I liked to stay behind the group to really take in the scenery. I asked questions about the plants, rocks, and Kilimanjaro alone. The hike itself wasn’t bad. A gradual incline with a spot or two that was tricky. Once we arrived to Barranco Camp we signed in, got dressed, and ate dinner. Sharing lots of laughs, memories, and genuine conversations the time passed until it was bed time. Another night Callie got to spend with me coughing and hacking up my lungs.

DAY FOUR:

I didn’t sleep again. I walked outside the tent around 2:00 am to a beautiful starry night. Coughing and uncomfortable I went into the tent until 5:50 am. Lesson number three: if the mountain wasn’t going to physically or mentally challenge me something had to. If you want something enough, you’ll have to work that much harder for it, and that’s exactly what I did. The upper respiratory infection that I was so greatly blessed with on this mountain was the one thing that was either going to make or break me. I gathered my belongings and stepped outside the tent at 6:00 am. I was by far the happiest human being. It was a chilly morning but a beautiful morning. At 13,000 ft above sea level I was already well above the clouds. I watched the sunrise and the frost slowly melt away from the plants and rocks. As I looked into the distance I saw the day we had planned for us and man was I nervous. Barranco wall. Yes, it’s exactly how it sounds. A wall. We hiked pole pole. During the first few hours of the hike I would have considered it being sketchy. We reached a point in the wall where they called it the kissing rock. Why? Because you basically had to kiss the wall and hold on for dear life or your life may be over. Readers, it’s not as bad as you think. Well unless you’re not an adrenaline junky like myself. Anyways, today was probably the most physically demanding day that there was, but even then it wasn’t anything impossible. After a few  hours on what seemed like a never-ending slope we finally reached the top. It was well worth every hard time on that wall. We took a 10 to 15 minute break at the top and took pictures of us being in and above the clouds. After that we continued through the alpine desert. The last couple hours of the hike wasn’t nearly as bad as the first couple. It was filled with mostly downhills, gradual inclines, and steady flat walkways. After 8 hours Barafu Camp (base camp) was in sight. We had one more big hill to accomplish before we got to the top of base camp. I was beyond exhausted at this point. Emmanuel did more than enough to push me to keep going, so I did. Almost to camp I was struggling to breath so Emmanuel took a little weight off my back and carried my backpack the rest of the way. As stubborn as I am, it was almost impossible for me to hand the bag over. Walking pole pole Callie and I made it together to base camp. We arrived around 5:00 pm. We all gathered in the mess tent and talked about the night to come. Callie, if you’re reading this – the night turned pretty shitty (wink wink).

We ate dinner and talked about the time we had to get up for summit. At this point I wasn’t well, and the guides saw it but there was no way I was turning back. Thankfully, I wasn’t presenting any symptoms for elevation sickness but instead an upper respiratory infection. When Emmanuel and Tino expressed their concerns on how they felt about me going further I immediately struck back with “I made it this far, I’m not turning back. I’m making it to the Roof of Africa come Hell or high water. I don’t care how long it’ll take me I’ll make it to the top.”  I knew that everyone slightly doubted me and my ability to get to the top, yet everyone was so supportive. At this point we were pushing 7:00 pm and everyone headed to bed so that we could be up by midnight for summit. I didn’t sleep. I was exhausted. I could barley breath. Trying not to wake the girls I stepped outside the tent to catch a breath of fresh air. I remember so vividly walking outside at 9:30 pm to a galaxy of stars looking down at me and tears filling my eyes. It was a breath-taking moment, literally. I remember thinking how astronomy isn’t appreciated enough, and it seemed like the stars shined brighter than ever on top of the mountain compared to anywhere else in the world. I walked to the mess tent where all the porters slept and asked the cook to boil hot water so I can try to clear my sinuses up. After about 15 minutes I went back to the tent and waited for time to pass.

DAY FIVE:

I waited patiently for Hussen and Jonathan to give us our wake up call. It was midnight and I was running on no sleep for three days. Everything I was supposed to wear for summit night I wore to bed. I slowly got out of bed and headed to the tent where all our bags were. Gemma and I were gathering our belongings. After about 5 minutes of struggling to put my sleeping bag away I sat there and cried. I didn’t understand why I had to get this damn upper respiratory infection when I was on the mountain. Everything in me wanted to quit but there was something more pushing me to keep going. Waiting at the table inside was a light breakfast that I was unable to eat. I packed away the juice box, chocolate, and crackers. At 12:15 am we left for summit.

I told Emmanuel that I was going to the top it was just going to take me a little extra time. After about an hour and a half Callie and I both broke away from the rest of the crew. Tears filled my eyes when the girls hugged Cal and I goodbye. As supportive as they were, they told me I made it farther than they ever would if they were as sick as me. Hearing that I just felt like they weren’t going to expect me at Uhuru Peak but I thought otherwise. Pole Pole. Thank goodness for Callie. She was by far one of the greatest support systems on the mountain. After every 5-10 minutes of walking I had to stop and catch a breather. I remember telling myself I made it this far, there’s no turning back. At 5200 meters (17,060 ft) I told Emmanuel I need to have a moment. I cried the words “I want to quit but I don’t want to quit.” Lesson number four: if you can overcome your mind you can drive your body to whatever measure. Push yourself even when you feel like there’s nothing left. Shortly after we realized we were not going to reach summit before sunrise, so instead we watched the sunrise of Mawenzi Peak. It was the most incredible view I have ever seen. To keep us going Emmanuel told us the end was near. The last two or three hours of the climb was the longest and hardest. We could see Stella point at a distance but it was a never-ending hike. When we finally reached we were told we still had an hour to go. How? Everyone looks so close. I kept pushing forward, random people from all over the world cheering you on while you are on your final stretch. “You’re so close, Keeping going. You got it.”

Every step I took, the closer I got, the better I felt. Callie ended up getting about 50 yards ahead of me. Eventually the hour flew by and before I knew it I was welcomed by Callie and Ellen. The second I made eye contact with Ellen, both our eyes filled with happy tears. She told me how proud she was of me and that alone made the waterworks flow like crazy. Open arms waited for me by the rest of the crew. Lesson number five: when you think you can’t, you can. There was so many moments during summit night that I thought I wasn’t going to make it, but I did. I kept pushing forward. I kept a semi positive attitude and I didn’t give up. When you think you can’t, always remember you can. As I stood there waiting for my turn in front of UHURU PEAK sign I studied every possible thing on the mountain. I looked out to miles and miles of clouds below me. I looked out peacefully to the way the earth rounds. I studied the glaciers that soon will just be history engraved in the mountain. I took a deep breath of the crisp thin air and told myself I made it. I summit the highest free-standing mountain in the world, Africa’s tallest mountain, and number four of the seven summits even when all odds were against me. That alone is an indescribable moment. Lesson number six: in the 5 days of hiking to this point I realized that life shouldn’t be measured by money or the materialistic things in life. Life should be measured by happiness and memories. It took me 5 days on a mountain to realize that I spent 20 years worrying about what people thought of me, how I dressed, what I was driving, and how nice of an apartment I have was actually irrelevant to what matters in life. Reaching summit has taught me an ungodly amount of life lessons. My favorite? Life doesn’t have to be a rush. Pole Pole. Slow down, enjoy the views, because before you know it, it’ll be gone in a blink of an eye.  Lesson number seven: it takes a whole whopping village to get to the top of this mountain. I couldn’t have made it to the top without the support from Callie, Gemma, Danielle, and Ellen. My rock on this mountain hands down goes to Emmanuel, and to all the porters Asante Sana. You guys are the real heroes! I can finish this story off by telling you that I walked down the mountain in a day but there is really no crazy story to tell, so I mine as well just end it here.

Cliffhanger, right?

By BTA World Correspondent, Emily Keating

Facebook: Emily Keating

Link to:  Emily’s Blog

Adventure travel like Emily’s courageous hike up Kilimanjaro is one of our favorite types of trips to plan.  Contact info@travelbta.com to explore adventure travel options specifically for you!

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