Thomson Safaris staffer Ali at Kilimanjaro summit

Thomson staffer Ali Riley had the chance to experience one of the most challenging routes up Kilimanjaro: Umbwe. This is the story of her experience.


You opted for the Umbwe Route—what made you pick it?

A big part of it was just timing; the Umbwe Route can be done as a 6-day climb, so I could squeeze it in before heading back to the states.


Were you nervous about the route?

Absolutely; it’s known for being extremely challenging, and because the ascent is more rapid, with less acclimatization, the success rate is lower. Since Thomson staffers have had a 100% summit-success rate so far, that made me a little worried!


Thomson Safaris Kilimanjaro guide with Thomson Safaris staffer AliMy guide, Joachim, totally rocked. He was so supportive and encouraging. I couldn’t have done it without him!

What were the best parts about Umbwe?

I loved that I got to spend so much time in the rainforest. I remember seeing the IMAX movie [To the Roof of Africa], and the idea that you could hike from the rainforest all the way to glaciers just seemed amazing to me. On Umbwe, you really get to experience the rainforest at the start of your trek, which was a very cool element for me.

rainforest on kilimanjaro umbwe route


What was your favorite memory of the mountain?

You’d think it would be the summit, but actually my favorite spot on the mountain was the Barranco Wall—climbing that was a definite adrenaline boost! My favorite memory was of the people. Everyone was so enthusiastic and had a great sense of humor. We laughed a ton, and really bonded by the end.


Ali climbing the Umbwe Route on KilimanjaroI had such a great time with my trekking group, and made some life-long friendships.

Any particularly difficult moments?

Without question the midnight summit. The altitude up there really wreaks havoc on your body. I had to dig deep, but made it, and I wouldn’t trade that moment for the world, but one big takeaway I got from Kili is that I’m a sea-level kind of gal!


So you did find the route challenging.

Absolutely. More than I expected. I’ve been an athlete all my life and was confident that I was physically and mentally prepared for the trek, but nothing could prepare me for the altitude, which can humble you in an instant. The summit push was probably one of the most difficult challenges I’ve faced to date.

With big challenges come big rewards, though. I feel like a learned a little bit more about myself that day.

staffer ali at top of kilimanjaro barranco wall


You must have been overjoyed to reach Uhuru Peak, then.

I was, for sure, but at the moment I was mostly relieved. PHEW—I did this…and now I can go back down to lower altitudes.

I am really, really glad that I did it, but anyone who’s planning an Umbwe trek should be prepared to REALLY push themselves!


View of Mount Kilimanjaro from ArushaVictory! The view of Kilimanjaro from Arusha is breathtaking (it’s even better after you’ve stood at the summit!).