Discard flaming memories

Day 6. This day and day 7 were practically the same since we left this last camp around midnight. But until then, we enjoyed still having some oxygen. And a hell of a view.

And if I turn around,

Congrats, hiking buddies!

I know, I know. An exclamation point in the title? Well, this is one of the few times I can justify it because two members from my Kilimanjaro hiking group, Colin and Christie, just had their first child, Clay. I can’t imagine it happening to a better couple. Seriously, I recall talking with one other member of the group, Nicole, about what a wonderful couple they made – it was that apparent in the short time I spent with them. I’m glad to see such joy brought into their lives and I wish them the best. And as if a newborn wasn’t enough, happy belated anniversary to to them yesterday!

Burgers; checkmate; memories

Day 5. This is the Barranco Wall. It’s an 800 foot climb of steepness that takes a good chunk of time to defeat. Unless you’re a porter. In that case, it’s hardly noticeable. (Look closely and you’ll see a whole line of porters snaking their way up the wall.)

Heath memories

Day 4. This picture is the first clear view we had of the mountain.

This next one is from above the Shira Plateau, not to mention most of the clouds. (My profile picture to the left is from the same area.)

I didn’t get any great pictures of this next landmark – Lava Tower – because I had very little desire to do anything but descend to the next campground. You see, what happens is that the days will often include climbing to a particular height and then camping down lower. This allows one to acclimate better, especially for the sake of sleeping. But what it also does is cause absolutely intense headaches during the rapid ascent.

Full blown memories

You know the drill. Day 3, still moving across Shira Plateau.

Warm memories for washing

I’ve decided I’m going to make my post titles inside references for the rest of my walk down memory lane.

This was day 2, somewhere in the rain forest under what looked like Old Man’s Beard. (It wasn’t that. I just don’t remember its name.)

Since I’m matching each picture with the corresponding day from exactly a year ago, I’m going to post two pictures today so I can put up another:

This is from the end of day 2 at Shira Camp 2. I’m in the midst of the Shira Plateau here (if I turned 90 degrees to the left, I would be looking at Kilimanjaro quite clearly), looking at some awesome scenery. Also, there are poopshacks in the foreground. Pretty nice as far as poopshacks go.

Ah, memories

I’ve been reminded that it was a year ago I was walking in the shadows of Kilimanjaro. On this particular date, I was likely at Shira Camp 1, arriving just after nightfall (because time is more of a ballpark idea than a precise concept in Tanzania, evidently). The whole trip is something that means an awful lot to me and I’ll never forget it.

I’m going to make an effort to put up a picture from each day for the next week or so until I’ve matched each day last year until summit day.

The return to Gulf Hagas

I wrote last year of my trip to Gulf Hagas. It was so darn swell that I decided to go again this year with Shambling After (who, AHEM, needs to blog more).

What do I need to climb Kilimanjaro?

I admit it. My title is designed to help me show up in search engines.

But it is a good question.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is easier than most people think. It is not technical. It doesn’t involve any mountaineering skills, and in fact, novice hikers can likely handle it. All it takes is moderate fitness, the right preparation, and – excuse the cliche – a will to do it.

Which company?

I’m going to skip over the gear because plenty of sites offer lists of stuff (though I will mention one thing – bring hiking poles). I want to address what I think is the real first step in summiting Kilimanjaro: the tour company. There are a lot out there and it can be quite time-consuming finding the right one. So let me save you some time:

Book with Zara Tours.

One of my chief concerns was finding an American-based company. I wanted to make sure that I was sending my money off to a reputable source. Of course, being American doesn’t make a company trustworthy, but I figured it was better than a foreign company based in a country I had never visited. As it turns out, though, I had sent my money off to a middle man. He was nice enough, if somewhat difficult to contact over the phone, but I didn’t really need him. He just set up my trip through Zara Tours, a company based in Tanzania, naturally charging me more than if I cut him out of the picture.

Which route?

Again, I’m not going to list out detailed descriptions of things that can be found in a million other places, but I will recommend the route I took: Lemosho. I’m sure the others are fine, but it depends on the person. Personally, I didn’t want to sleep in a hut. The reason? A lot of other people do want to sleep in them. That makes for a messier, more crowded campground. Not that any route isn’t going to be crowded during high season, but I prefer a relatively quieter area. Lemosho provided that, especially since it is tent-only.

Here are some campgrounds. This first one is one where I actually stayed:

If I recall, more groups eventually did show up, but it was still pretty quiet. Higher up, however, it gets more crowded because several of the routes converge:

I actually stayed at a site about 30 minutes from here (Shira 2, maybe?), but this is pretty representative. Continue further and it gets more and more crowded. It never got overwhelming, but do expect to see some people up there.

When?

Plenty of sites list out climate information, so I’m not going to knock out a list myself. But for my experience, my trip was from the tail end of August into September, which was dry. In fact, I experienced 15 minutes of drizzle the whole time, and that was only because I was in a cloud. (It also snowed a couple of inches at the final camp before summit, but I’m told it was rather unusual for that time; besides, it happened at night.)

I would recommend to obviously go during the dry season. The mountain is still accessible in the wet season, but scheduling will be more restricted and a successful climb may not be in the cards. Also, many people like to go during a full moon. I personally wanted a new moon so I could see the stars more intensely (plus there would be fewer people). As it turned out, I had a long night filled with amazing stars, later giving way to a yellow quarter moon, capped with the most incredible sunrise I have ever seen. On this one it’s to each his own, but I don’t think disappointment is possible with any choice.

Money?

The Zara link above will list out how much it costs for the climb, which may change at any given time. I personally paid about $1850 with the middle man. That isn’t the rock bottom price, but it is somewhat on the lower end, and the guides and porters were fantastic. What I wish I had have done, given my half-day or so ride from the frickin’ Serengeti, was spring the extra few bucks (okay, a lot bucks) for a safari. Don’t be overly concerned with money. I plan on revisiting Africa at some point, so a safari will happen for me, but my Tanzania trip could just as easily be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It would have been worth it to go all-out.

Also be sure to budget cash for the loose ends. I was short on cash because, duh, Tanzania doesn’t much like debit or credit cards. The visa, which can easily be had immediately after landing, was $100 (cash only). I also had to buy some meals and (of course) beer at the hotel (cash only). They weren’t expensive by any means, but it is a cost. For the tips for the guides and porters (cash only) I had to use an ATM in Moshi. It was a disconcerting experience to put my card in a machine so far from home, to say the least. I believe I only gave them around $200, but the average is probably more like $250. (And given the incredible people I had, I wish I had have withdrawn more.) Don’t worry about how to dole everything out; I know a lot of sites make a big deal out of it, but all the money just goes to the head guide. Clean and simple.

Why?

Because it is there.

I’ve barely scratched the surface for the sort of questions people have, so feel free to ask in the comment section: you will get an answer.

Carl Sagan on the new astrology

We can all get a little attached sometimes.