Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro a beautiful and gruelling challenge MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro: A Beautiful and Challenging Adventure

Ever since my husband and I drove past Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007, I couldn’t get the idea of climbing it out of my head. The stunning beauty of Tanzania and the allure of Africa’s highest peak called me back in February of this year.

I was able to convince a group of friends from around the world to join me on this incredible journey. Calling it an “expedition” may sound dramatic, but with eight foreign climbers, 42 Tanzanian porters, a year of preparation, and a 5,895-meter summit, it truly felt like the adventure of a lifetime.

When I arrived in Arusha and started my six-day trek, I was immediately captivated by the distinct African ambiance of this place. It’s part of what makes this mountain so extraordinary among the ‘Seven Summits’ of the world. After one final night of rest in a cozy local lodge, my group from Hawaii, Tennessee, Nicaragua, South Africa, and Switzerland set off on our adventure.

When I first started hiking on the lower slopes of Kili, it was a breeze. The views and scenery were beautiful, and I was taking my time, enjoying every moment. It didn’t take long for me to realize that choosing the right operator was a smart move. Sure, it cost us a bit more, but the extra perks and comfort were worth it. We had our own private toilet tent and dining mess tent, which made a big difference. And let’s not forget the small luxuries, like hot tea or coffee brought to our tents in the morning. But even with all of these nice things, I knew deep down that this was going to be a tough challenge, unlike anything I had ever faced before.

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So, here’s the deal: the Rongai Route is all about getting up that massive mountain from the northern side, in Kenya. As you make your way up, you’ll be treated to some seriously stunning views of the summit and Mwenzi Peak. Now, let me tell you about Mwenzi – it’s this rugged peak that seems oh-so-intimidating… that is, until you reach the top of Kili and look down at it, realizing it’s just a teeny-tiny pimple in comparison. Pretty amusing, huh?

I gotta say, this route has some pretty impressive stats. It’s got one of the best success rates when it comes to reaching the tippy-top, and it’s also one of the easiest on the old legs. You see, the gentle gradient makes it a whole lot easier for your body to adjust to the altitude. And trust me, that’s a good thing.

Reaching the top is a lot about how your body reacts to extreme altitude, not just fitness. We heard this many times before, and now we know it’s true. The day before we climbed to the summit, we set up camp at Kibo, which is 4200m high. Some of us were already feeling the effects of the thin air up there. Our lungs, muscles, and bodies all wanted more oxygen, and moving around was a struggle. Even something as simple as turning over in my sleeping bag took a lot of effort. No amount of preparation can get you ready for such a shortage of oxygen, and each of us felt the pain in our own way.

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I woke up at around 11pm and got ready to head towards the top. It was a slow walk in the dark, carefully making our way up. The temperature dropped to -15 degrees Celsius, and just before the sun came up, we reached Gilman’s Point, standing at 5681m. You would think that we were all overjoyed and celebrating as the sun’s rays appeared on the horizon of our beloved Africa, but the truth is, by that point, our main focus was survival and completing the task at hand. We still had 214m left to climb, and most of our team had to dig deep within themselves to find the strength to reach the summit. Covering about two kilometers to climb those 214m would take us around two hours, pushing our bodies to their limits.

Reaching the very top of Africa is an indescribable feeling. I can tell you that we all felt so many different emotions and accomplished something we never thought possible. Uhuru Peak, which is 5895m high, is an experience I will always remember. We cried tears of joy, hugged each other tightly, and snapped a few pictures to capture the moment forever. Our guide reminded us that we needed to start heading back down without wasting any time. Staying at such a high altitude is only temporary. It’s impossible for us to stay up there for a long time, so it was important for us to descend as soon as possible.

On our journey down the mountain, we decided to take a different path, known as the Marangu Route. As we made our descent, our bodies began to feel better, and our strength slowly returned after a long day that lasted 20 hours. Before reaching our final destination, we camped one more night and felt a sense of relief knowing that we had successfully reached the summit and were now at a safe altitude.

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They say that the rest is history. We were a group of eight close friends, ranging in age from 18 to 62 years old, and we all reached the peak of Kilimanjaro. After accomplishing this incredible feat, we went our separate ways, returning to our homes and loved ones who may never truly grasp the magnitude of what we had accomplished. Each of us had a unique experience, and for all of us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure!

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