7 Days on the Tallest Freestanding Mountain in the World

I agreed to climb Kilimanjaro about 5 minutes after I had just gone skydiving for my birthday. I had sent a text message to my boyfriend Riley's parents that we had survived the 13,000 feet fall and his dad responded, "What's next, Kilimanjaro?". I responded "Let's do it!". While it's safe to say that adrenaline definitely played a part in my decision, I could not be more thrilled that I went. I come from a family that believes hiking should be followed with a glass of wine, a nice lunch and then a nap (and trust me I am all for this too!), so I knew that this would most likely be my one opportunity to go. Fast forward a few months and 5 people with 15 bags headed to Chicago O'Hare airport to make the 20 hour journey to Kilimanjaro. 

DAY 1: MACHAME GATE (5,905 FEET) TO MACHAME CAMP (9,350 FEET) 

We opted for the Machame route (aka the Whiskey route) for its impressive views and because it gives trekkers the opportunity to experience all 5 ecosystems found on Kilimanjaro). Shortly after beginning our climb I was shocked to see the porters literally RUNNING past our group with tents, duffel bags, toilets, and food ALL ON THEIR HEADS. Here I was huffing and puffing with nothing but water in my pack, thinking "what did I get yourself into?". 7 long hours later, we reached a clearing where we had our first opportunity to see Kilimanjaro since arriving in Africa (and better yet, it was only a few minutes away from camp)! As we got settled into camp, we familiarized ourselves with the ins and outs of camp life. 

Right Photo: Weighing our bags at the Machame Gate so they can confirm that we bring everything we brought onto the mountain back off with us. 

A group of porters carrying duffel bags on their heads and balancing it with one hands, while still managing to carry more items up the mountain in their other hand!

A group of porters carrying duffel bags on their heads and balancing it with one hands, while still managing to carry more items up the mountain in their other hand!

Camp #1: Machame Camp

Camp #1: Machame Camp

The porters from World Wide Trekking serenading us with songs about Kilimanjaro before we headed out for the day.

The porters from World Wide Trekking serenading us with songs about Kilimanjaro before we headed out for the day.

DAY 2: MACHAME CAMP (9,350 FEET) TO SHIRA CAVE CAMP (12,595 FEET) 

Each day on Kilimanjaro began with songs and a dance party. This honestly was the highlight of my day because, despite the fact that I'm a horrible dancer, I LOVE DANCING.  Five hours after leaving camp, we reached lunch and (fulfilling every American stereotype) we all started cheering when we saw the surprise tins of Pringles on the table. We stayed the night at the Shira Cave Camp which offered views of Mount Meru and Uhuru Peak!

DAY 3: SHIRA CAVE CAMP (12,595 FEET) TO BARANCO CAMP (13,077 FEET)

We set out from Shira Cave Camp for the Lava Towers to begin our first climb high, sleep low trek. This allowed us to acclimatize to the increased altitude more efficiently (or so they say. I wasn't going to doubt them). When we finally arrived at the Barranco camp for the night, our eyes quickly followed the path UP the 845 foot wall that we would be scrambling the next morning. 

DAY 4: BARRANCO CAMP (13,077 FEET) TO KARANGA CAMP (13,245 FEET)

During breakfast on the first day, we watched ant-sized trekkers meandering their way along the rock face, making this seemingly laughable idea a reality. We were literally piled on top of one another scaling this wall trying to avoid touching anyone, especially the porters who were STILL CARRYING TENTS ON THEIR HEADS. After climbing over the final we found the energy to take our own personal "We Conquered the Barranco Wall" jumping photos and then continued on to the Karanga Camp for the night.

DAY 5: KARANGA CAMP (13,245 FEET) TO BARAFU CAMP (15,331 FEET) TO KOSOVO CAMP (15,750FEET)

On day five, we made our way towards Barafu Camp through the high desert plateau. Barafu Camp is where most trekkers spend the afternoon napping before the summit attempt. Our trekking group obtains a permit so we can stay at the Kosovo Camp and avoid scaling another wall in the night (another reason why they are AMAZING!). Up at the quieter Kosovo Camp, we readied our heaviest gear to prepare for our 11:30PM departure for the summit. 

DAY 5(ISH)/DAY 6: KOSOVO CAMP (15,750 FEET) TO UHURU PEAK TO HIGH CAMP (12,556 FEET)

Before we knew it, our guides were nudging us out the dining tent into the freezing cold air towards the trail. After five exhausting days of hiking at high altitude, we were finally making our final push for the summit with only the moon and our headlamps leading the way. Summit night is not for the faint-hearted: you are sleep deprived, wind chills are below zero, you've barely eaten, and are facing a steep climb in the dark. It's definitely not for everyone! We took our breaks every hour on the dot and soon the warm water that once soothed my bleeding, wind-burned lips had pieces of ice floating in it, chilling us to our core. About halfway through our trip up the mountain, one of our group members realized she was getting frost bite and turned around. This was my breaking point. I felt so helpless watching her have to turn around after working so hard to reach this point that I immediately started crying. I think I actually cried about 12 times in those last few hours on our way to the summit. I honestly can't even tell you why, but I know that every muscle in my body was screaming, I was mentally and physically exhausted, and every time I cried my tears would freeze on my face (and that actually really hurt) which made me cry again, creating a painful cycle. During our summit night, our guide Dean actually wound up having to force feeding me three frozen energy gummies (since that was all I could handle eating) to help me keep going. The combination of Diamox and high altitude made me feel nauseous just at the sight of food, so at this point in our trek, I had not eaten a full meal in almost a day and a half. If it were not for our guides constantly waking us up, force feeding us snacks and water, and helping us focus on our breathing, I'm certain I would not have reached the summit. Mt. Kilimanjaro truly pushes you in ways that you cannot fathom, but we all pushed back. On July 20, 2016 at 7:10AM, we reached the summit Mount Kilimanjaro at Uhuru Peak. 

The descent is one of the most difficult hikes during your time on Kilimanjaro. You can barely contain your excitement that you've reached the summit and if you're like me, once I summited I was ready to take a shower and be done with hiking for a little bit. I didn't want to have to hike down (seriously where's the helicopter to pick me up and take me back to civilization?!). The hike down is also where most people get hurt so we had to be extra cautious during our descent. 

Left Photo: These are the ambulances you can find on Kilimanjaro. If needed, you are laid down on top and rushed down the mountain at full speed while 6 porters carry you down the mountain. Thankfully no one on our trek needed it!

DAY 7: HIGH CAMP (12,556 FEET) TO MWEKA GATE (5,380 FEET)

Our last day on Kilimanjaro was bittersweet. We were sad to see our experience coming to an end, but there were also hot showers to be had for the first time in seven days (so we were actually super thrilled to be honest)! The hike to Mweka gate is 12.5 miles long and we were all eager to celebrate our achievements so we set out on our sore legs on our descent. After 6 long hours, we made it to the bottom! We sang and danced to our final Kilimanjaro song and bid farewell to the mountain with a champagne toast. 

Top Right Photo: Loading up on sunscreen to avoid getting even more of an altitude sunburn! (But actually I could barely move my lips at this point... shout out to vaseline for making your lips more susceptible to a sunburn!) 

Bottom Right Photo: My final dance party. Like I said, I may not be a great dancer, but fake it 'til you make right?! 

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My time on Kilimanjaro was a life changing experience and I could not be more grateful to have been included on Riley's family vacation (seriously thank you for inviting me!!!). Each person in our group of ten showed up to the Machame Gate for a different reason, but we all took on the mountain together as one group, helping each other along the way. I made friends, experienced a new culture, and even learned a few phrases in Swahili along the way during my week on the mountain. So to everyone that contributed to my experience on Kilimanjaro, asante sana. 

Our celebratory barbecue after our first showers in over a week! 

Our celebratory barbecue after our first showers in over a week! 

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT MY EXPERIENCE ON KILIMANJARO, THE GROUP I TREKKED WITH, ETC. PLEASE EITHER LEAVE A COMMENT OR SEND ME A MESSAGE IN THE CONTACT SECTION. I WOULD LOVE TO HELP YOU HAVE AN INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE LIKE I DID!