Ralph and Szabi met in Basel early in 2017. Ralph owns a positive change consulting practice, and Szabi is a scientist who works for one of Ralph’s clients. Szabi talked about climbing Kilimanjaro at one meeting, and Ralph suggested going together. The rest is history.
They kept a day-by-day journal of their journey from home to the summit.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018 – The Flight
WOW – departure day is here. Hard to believe 10 months of preparation is over, and the trek awaits.
Last night, sleep was hard to come by – last minute packing and adjustments, going over the checklist and making sure nothing was missed for this adventure. Excitement grew, and we were thankful for the great support of our families.
We grab our duffle bags with two weeks’ worth of clothes. They’re lighter than expected, and our backpacks fit great. Check-in was smooth, and security was easy despite being time consuming. We’re traveling light – no PC, iPad or wallet.
Szabi and I met at the gate. We looked at each other – the start of our adventure. We were ready!
Kilimanjaro airport was small and efficient – processing time for visas and luggage was about an hour. When we left the airport there was a bevy of folks with signs greeting passengers. Thankfully, Thomson Safaris had a picture, and we were greeted by our driver, who gave us an update of the next several hours.
We drove 20 minutes to Plantation Lodge and were again greeted by Tanzanian hospitality. After a light and tasty meal, a good night’s sleep was welcomed.
Wednesday, September 5, 2018 – Preparation
After a nice breakfast, we met Gabriel Rassy – our guide and “father” for the trek. We immediately became friends. He has reached the summit 163 times, which gives us a sense of comfort.
The drive to Ndarakwai Camp at the base of Kilimanjaro is in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area – an 11,000-acre area with many different types of wildlife. Summer showers cut short the wildlife viewing, so we will go in the morning
The trip there also took us through several small communities and gave us insight into local life. The shopping areas were used by people coming from the mountains and were busy.
The quietness surrounds us, and there is a feeling of “take it easy – no hurry.” We enjoy a peaceful afternoon of packing, FaceTime and phone calls with loved ones followed by dinner and an early night. There will be a safari drive in the morning and then off to the Lemosho Route trailhead.
Thursday, September 6, 2018 – It Begins
The day started early with a game drive at 6:30 a.m., which was awesome. The sun was just coming up, and the air was clean and fresh. As we rode, we saw a variety of animals including gazelles, antelopes, cape buffaloes and zebras. Near the end of the ride, we walked a little way to observe three giraffes.
Upon return to the lodge, we prepared to head to the trailhead of Kilimanjaro. The drive took about an hour. At the checkpoint, our porters were selected and gear weighed (bags cannot exceed 33 pounds and each porter is only allowed to carry 40 pounds).
After lunch, we were introduced to our support team and those who would always be with us – Gabriel, Godwin and the medic. Godwin set the pace – pole, pole aka slowly, slowly. We left from 6,900 feet.
The day’s walk was through the rainforest, and while mostly uphill, there were periods of decline. Uphill was like a set of terrace-steps that supported the climb. We stopped every 40 minutes for water and a break.
The clean air and quiet were most enjoyable – a stark contrast to daily life. It made us realize the value of slowing down, enjoying the present and taking a break from daily affairs.
We got into camp and found our tents waiting – very comfortable and plenty of room. Having individual tents was a pleasant surprise. After changing into dry clothes, as we sweated every drop of liquid consumed, it was time for tea.
Godwin accompanied us, and we relaxed to conversation and warm tea. Hygiene was a focus, and we washed hands multiple times. A walk through the camp, which at its peak had at least 10 teams and 150+ people, reflected a bevy of activity.
We had a tasty pasta dinner, and Gabriel walked us through day two and what we could expect. Bedtime was 8:30 p.m., and we realized it had been a long time since we went to bed at that hour.
Friday, September 7, 2018 – Sun-Bathing on the Mountain
Up at 6:30 a.m. for morning coffee and stretching. We had a tasty breakfast and packed up – legs moving by 8:20 a.m. The rest of the site was breaking down, but we were the early ones out.
The first part of the hike took us through the rainforest, and it felt denser than the previous day. Szabi noted the surroundings reminded him of “Lord of the Rings” and a lively conversation followed regarding the trilogy.
The trip was consistently up, and we walked at Godwin’s pace – again very thankful for his skill at setting the pace. Several panoramic views made us realize we were above the clouds. After a couple of hours, we left the forest and came upon the moorlands, which had short trees, bushes and very dry landscapes thanks to the sun.
The path was much rockier than expected and required paying attention to where we walked. With time, the path became easier and Godwin’s inquisitive nature kept us on our toes, asking riddle questions that made us exercise our minds along with our bodies. It was great fun and made us laugh – we are blessed with great guides! The upward journey continued until we came to a place for lunch, where we took a break to eat and refresh.
After lunch, we continued up and the path was rockier – a mountain goat would have been proud of us. Following the climb, there was a flat ridge, and we descended into our camp for the evening.
The moorland campsite was less crowded, and with no sun, it was much cooler. The view from our tents was looking at Kilimanjaro – priceless! We spent the afternoon sunbathing and discussing some of the great questions in life.
Dinner was peanut sauce with rice and stir fry – tasty. Before dinner, it became time for long underwear and extra socks, as the night would be cooler. We left the dinner tent to a star show – seeing the Milky Way, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars, which was incredible! We had never seen a sky so clear and bright with the stars.
Godwin pointed out the planets to us and some of the constellations, his knowledge was impressive. The quietness of the night and clear sky created a tranquil moment that engulfed us.
We crawled into our sleeping bags a tad chilled and with a hope to warm up and have another good night sleep. It’s 8:00 p.m. – hoping for no bathroom trips on this chilly night.
Saturday, September 8, 2018 – The On-Off Switch
A good and warm night’s sleep was followed by a refreshing morning coffee. We learned that in Swahili, coffee roughly means “slap me.” Rather appropriate we thought. In the morning, we woke to frost on the ground, a crisp blue sky and a clear view of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
After breakfast, the sun was bright, and it was hot. It would be this way all day – when the sun is out, it’s hot. Cloud cover brings an instant temperature drop of 25 degrees and thankfulness for long underwear.
The trek across the moorlands was a gradual ascent over a rocky path, including the occasional gorge. Our trekking poles are essential and have made the trek easier. During the four-hour trek we stopped several times for water and snacks, allowing our bodies to adjust and giving them energy. Our bodies use all the input we are given – the meals are designed to nourish us.
Resting after lunch in a warm tent in the shadow of Kilimanjaro is surreal. This afternoon is an acclamation walk for an hour. Gabriel reminded us of his goal at lunch – get us up and down safely from the summit. Every day, his and Godwin’s knowledge is more impressive. Thomson Safaris was the right choice!
The afternoon acclamation walk goes to 13,000 feet, allowing our bodies to adjust as, tomorrow we will go to 15,000 feet. It was a nice walk and brought the mountain ever closer.
Before dinner, we change into warmer clothes and add another layer because tonight and tomorrow will be cooler. We eat another wonderful meal – lasagna. We could not ask for more.
We bundled up to sleep, including two pairs of socks, long underwear, pants and shirt, not to mention gloves and head protection. Being warm means good sleep. Ready for Day 4!
Sunday, September 9, 2018 – A New Height
Another crisp, clean morning after a wonderful night’s sleep – being warm makes all the difference. To bed around 8 p.m. and out at 6.30 a.m. to a morning coffee. Ready for another day and appreciating the consistency and simplicity of the morning routine. We have breakfast crepes with raspberry preserve before leaving – the joy of the mountain.
Lava Tower was our goal, and we reached it after 5 hours. At a height of 15,000 feet, it’s the highest point we’ve ever reached. The trek brought us into the alpine desert, and we spent most of the day above the clouds.
The environment became sparser of vegetation and rockier. We traversed several narrow paths and gorges, which tested our mountain goat skills. It was a very gradual, consistent ascent. The pace was ideal, and we had no impact from the increased altitude. Stops for water and snacks every 45 minutes helped us acclimate. Once at Lava Tower, we are done for the day.
While the high desert is barren, there is a stark beauty about it. We have not missed our cell phones – rather we are enjoying being present in each moment.
During the trek to Lava Tower, we encountered many other trekkers, as Lava Tower is a crossing point for several other routes. During the day’s trek, we saw much litter on the ground from cigarette butts to snack bar wrappers to tissues. It was sad and disheartening to see visitors treat this beautiful landscape with such disrespect. We only have one planet and it deserves to be treated well.
We end the evening by 8:00 p.m. and head to bed – excited for tomorrow.
Monday, September 10, 2018 – Kiss the Wall
A warm and restful sleep followed by a morning coffee – a familiar routine. The little tips for a good night’s sleep all worked. Go when you have to. And a little snack to warm the body will help sleep come quickly. The quiet night was also a plus, as we were the only trekkers in the camp.
Today’s trek would be a long one. We bundled up and headed down several hundred feet over very rocky terrain with awesome views. As the sun rose, we shed layers to let it warm us.
At one break, Godwin filled his water bottle from a stream and informed us our stomachs could not handle the bacteria until we lived here 6 to 12 months.
After several hours we were introduced to The Barranco Wall – 1,000 feet of rock climbing rather than trekking. It was physically challenging, rewarding and satisfying. The climbing consisted of grabbing crevices and pulling ourselves up and over rocks. The wall allowed us to experience another part of Kilimanjaro. At the top, the view was spectacular and well worth the climb, not to mention the sense of accomplishment.
What followed was three hours of going down only to go up again. It has become a consistent theme and gets us to the place we want to go. Godwin has such a skill in setting the pace that any terrain or incline is possible. Going down was more challenging than expected, and our trekking poles were essential. Toward the end of the day, we were 600 feet from camp the way the crow flies, and it took 30 minutes down and 30 minutes up to get there.
We enjoyed a light snow shower during this last hour. The shower gave way to sunshine quickly, and our view of the valley was wonderful with Kilimanjaro behind us. The camp was full, and we are grateful to be above the main camp. The mountain behind us is inspiring; we are close.
At dinner, we discussed the next day. It will be short – only 3 hours – trekking to base camp and then preparation for the trek to Uhuru Peak the next morning. The excitement is building. As we leave the dinner tent to head to bed, we see the lights in the valley and miss the stillness and silence of the night before.
It is 8:15 p.m. and time for sleep – a full day done!
Tuesday, September 11, 2018 – Base Camp
A relaxing night’s sleep and the morning sun on the tent provide a pleasant warmth. The night brought ten hours of sleep – hard to believe and most enjoyable. Morning breakfast sees an army of trekkers and support teams move to base camp for tomorrow’s ascent.
Today we made the trek to Barafu base camp from which we will ascend tomorrow morning around 6:00 a.m. for the summit. The trek was a gradual walk through the moorlands toward alpine dessert. Tomorrow, we reach the arctic zone. As we trekked upward, the sun kept us warm, and it is amazing that in cool temperatures it is still so easy to sweat.
As we left camp this morning, the path was straight up, and we knew we would reach our target by putting one foot in front of the next, taking small steps consistently is the key. The terrain was easier to navigate and our experience of the past few days gave us confidence we would arrive at base camp and 15,500 feet.
As we reached base camp, the number of people present was overwhelming given the location. Tents everywhere and a bevy of people. Camp was off to the side, so we would have quiet, good sleep. Many trekkers will wake at midnight and begin their ascent, which seems tough.
We will leave Camp at 6:00 a.m. and summit around noon. Along the way, we will see the crater and return to base camp. This will be an 8- to 10-hour, slow and steady trek. Gabriel’s confidence is infectious, and we are sure we will summit.
At afternoon tea, we went over the ascent details – dress, timing, safety – we really appreciate and value Gabriel’s focus on safety first. He outlined the route and expressed extreme confidence that we will summit – he said to have cameras ready.
We went back to pack and dress for the morning – all our warmest gear and multiple layers – the key is to be warm both tonight and during the trek. Reflecting on the day ahead, we are grateful for all those who supported us and made this journey possible. This is the type of experience that has profound influences on participants and it certainly has on us – grateful for that.
Dinner early and in bed by 7:00 p.m. We will rise at 5:00 a.m. to head to the summit!
Wednesday, September 12, 2018 – The Summit
A warm night and we slept well – now we leave! All the planning and training has brought us to this point – 4,000 feet to go up and reach the summit in the next 5 to 6 hours – not sure what to expect or what we will encounter.
We left at 6:20 a.m. and Gabriel took the lead – he said his short legs would set the perfect pace, and he was correct! Ralph was behind Gabriel. Szabi was next, followed by Godwin, the medics and two porters carrying our packs filled with 4 liters of water.
Gabriel set a great pace. All our work was focused on this day. There was minimal conversation, and the wind was cold. We were wearing all our warmest clothes, including gloves and hats. The plan was to stop every 45 minutes or so for water and a short 5-minute break – longer and we would get tired.
Physically, we were ready as Gabriel and Godwin had acclimatized our bodies to the higher altitudes and the activity involved. Internal conversation was critical, especially in the last hour, and positive self-talk gave us the boost to keep going. The sun was out, and the surroundings spectacular.
Hearing we had trekked to 17,700 feet – more than halfway – gave us such a boost of energy. We could not have anticipated the effort the day would take, and it didn’t matter because our guide and his team along with our clear focus moved us up the mountain.
When we reached Stella Point, the hard climbing was over, and we had just 500 feet in elevation and 45 minutes to go to summit. The joy of having reached this point was overwhelming, a very emotional moment. We hugged our support team and gave high-fives.
After a brief break, we headed to the summit through snow shelves along the crater. The crater was beautiful and a spot for parasailing, which we saw. Even now, near noon, it was cool and windy. Personally, were glad we made the decision not to spend the night at the crater.
As we reached the summit and Uhuru Peak, a tremendous sense of satisfaction washed over us – we had achieved our goal – it is hard to put it into words.
We took pictures of ourselves and the flags we brought along with the team. Our support team was essential to us reaching the peak. We spent some more time reflecting on our accomplishment and taking in the incredible view. Then began the descent.
The descent was easier in one sense – we were going downhill – and challenging in its own way, as we had to watch our every step. The descent followed a different path and the psychological impact of descending was noticeable – steps were easier, and lungs filled fuller. The descent had loose gravel and rocks to climb down, not to mention it was much more of a straight line as opposed to the switchbacks on the way up.
As we went down, the air got thicker and would fill our lungs. We saw several folks being helped down and it reminded us that we had achieved something that had an element of risk to it.
When we returned to Base Camp, 10 hours after we started, exhaustion finally hit, and it was physical, emotional and mental. We cannot remember being so tired. The feeling of success was overwhelming, and we shared our joy with all in the camp.
Today is a day we will remember for a lifetime and will remind us of what is possible with preparation, focus, teamwork, flexibility and passion.