Paul had a successful Kilimanjaro trek—we wanted to learn a little more about his experience on the mountain:
What made you decide to climb Kilimanjaro?
In high school I learned about the glaciers at the summit of Kilimanjaro, and that idea just fascinated me—that there could be glaciers dead on the equator! I’ve been dreaming of a trek to the “Roof of Africa” ever since!
Why did you choose the Machame route?
Scheduling, really. Ideally I would have spent a few more days on the mountain, but I had work commitments in Kenya which gave me just a week in Tanzania. I only had time to do a 6- or 7-day climb. Machame gave me more time at higher elevations to acclimatize before the approach to the summit, and seemed like a more enjoyable trek than other short routes, so I decided it was the best chance I had of getting to the top!
Would you recommend Machame?
Yes, I had an amazing time on my trek, but I’d say this route is only a good option if you’re already reasonably fit, and ideally have some experience at altitude. All of the trekkers in my group had some experience with alpine hikes—it didn’t mean we felt no effects from altitude, but it did help us prepare physically and mentally for the experience. I’ve heard Machame is one of the more difficult ways to reach the top, and I believe that, though I’ll add that in my opinion it has to be one of the most beautiful!
Still, I’d love to climb Kili again with a bit more time to enjoy my surroundings and rest my body; a Grand Traverse with Thomson is on the top of my wish-list!
You say it was beautiful—was there any sight in particular that you remember?
After so many years of anticipation it was amazing to finally see the glaciers on the shoulders of the mountain, but I was actually most blown away by the view from the summit.
I was very lucky to reach the peak just as the sun was rising. The mountain cast a huge pyramid-shaped shadow on the early-morning clouds below us, but as the sun climbed higher in the sky that shadow shifted and shrank. It truly felt like I was on top of the world. My guide told me that on the clearest of days you can see the Indian Ocean shimmering in the distance (I’m not sure I believe him, but who knows?). It was an unforgettable sight and really made all of the training and hard work worth it.
What was it like to stand on Uhuru Peak?
It’s a very strange sensation; as you take the last few steps to the summit your body suddenly feels 20lbs lighter. The little aches and pains just disappear, and the biting winds seem to ebb away (albeit only for a few seconds). I actually became quite emotional as I started to think about how many people will never have the opportunity to stand on that spot, and how lucky I was to be there. It was the culmination of a huge amount of effort and energy and it felt amazing.
Any secret tips to help trekkers reach the top?
A couple. First: pay attention to the packing list. I sort of scoffed at the idea that I’d need heavy-duty winter gear, and only brought light gloves with me. Luckily, during the gear check at the lodge, my guide noticed, and loaned me some huge mountaineering mittens—at first I thought he was joking, but as we made our way to Stella Point in the dark I began to realize how lucky I was to have them!
Second: I can’t stress the importance of bringing snacks enough (on the mountain, or in life, take your pick).
In all seriousness, though, it can be hard to maintain your appetite at altitude, and you need the energy. I opted for the same brick-of-sugar treat Sir Edmund Hilary took up Everest: Kendal Mint Cake. It not only tasted fantastic, it made me feel like I was following in a long line of impressive explorers.