.All Trips / Africa / Tanzania

Mount Kilimanjaro (Part 3) Summit and Descent

A Trek up Mount Kilimanjaro 3) Summit and Descent

We had spent the past week slowly working our way up the slopes of Kilimanjaro via the Shira route, an experience I’ve previously described in blog posts here and here.  Finally, after a chilly night’s camping beside the Furtwangler Glacier on the Summit Plateau, the Roof of Africa was only a few hours away.

We were up before dawn, enjoyed hot tea and a light breakfast and were eager to tackle the 800′ climb separating our camp from Uhuru Peak (19,340′). It was slow going in the thin air and steep slope but what an experience to watch the early light of sunrise on the eastern horizon!  The sky above us was mostly clear and we were soon on the summit.  The early morning views of the mountain’s ice-fields, African plain and Mt Meru were beautiful and we took time to relax and take it all in for the better part of an hour — an experience that was truly memorable!  The summit is a broad plateau so it was not crowded in any way.   It was a treat to see the shadow of the mountain retreat across the African plains as the sun climbed higher and to see a new day birth on this ancient land.  There were many smiles and pats on the back.  It was quite an achievement for all of us!

We descended via the Mweka Route, the most direct route onto the mountain (and with a steep climb that limits summiting success on ascent).   What surprised me was how tiring the descent was.  We descended over 9000 feet that day — much like descending to the Colorado River from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (twice!).  Trekking poles were very handy in keeping our balance on our descent.  But by the time we reached our camp our legs felt like rubber.  It was perhaps the hardest day’s activity I’ve ever participated in.

The descent took us through the climatic zones in reverse order — moving from Artic snow to arid desert and frozen scree, then Moorland and finally into rainforest.  We camped at around 10,000′ close to the transition between moorland and jungle and were treated to a fine dinner of fresh fish (carried by one porter from the trail-head to this camp — yum!).

After a solid night’s sleep (though I did head outside after dark to enjoy my final view of the Southern Cross and Magellan clouds in the beautiful sky), we were up at dawn to complete our journey.  We continued downhill another 3500′ to the Mweka Gate and the end of our trek. This was through rainforest and the trail here was very slippery and required cautious hiking.  At the Mweka trail-head we enjoyed lunch.  We said goodbye to our mountain crew with much thanks for their help (and provided generous tips).  A few hours later we arrived at a lodge on the afternoon after we summited.  It was great to get showered (first one in a week — very needed!), put on clean clothes and shave.  And to eat a great meal beside the a hillside coffee plantation close to Arusha.   That very evening we caught our long return flight home — from Arusha to Dar-es-Saleem to Amsterdam; after a few hour layover I catch my flight back to America.

And so the adventure was complete!  I had a great feeling of accomplishment and many great memories of a terrific trip!  If you are interested in doing this, I’d give it my highest recommendation.  It is a physically challenging trip so do it sooner rather than later.  It’s much better to climb the mountain when you’re young.

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