Bagging Kilimanjaro

Once-in-a-lifetime experience takes hikers through five ecological zones to Africa's tallest peak

Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2005

We retired from Juneau-Douglas High School last year and got teaching jobs at the American International School of Johannesburg in South Africa.

This spring, we took some of our new students to Tanzania to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The mountain rises 19,340 feet above the African plain, and the summit at Uhuru Peak was the destination of our "Kili Team."

We left Johannesburg on March 19 and flew to Arusha in Tanzania, where a bus transported us to a hotel in Moshi. After a night's rest - and our last shower for six days - we started hiking from park headquarters at Marangu Gate.

To reach Uhuru Peak, we would be hiking for five days through five distinct ecological zones, each with its own special type of beauty. We would spend the night at three different huts along the way.

Once we got to Kibo Hut (base camp), we were ready for our summit attempt. Our group had dinner and went to bed at about 6 p.m., until our guides woke us up for the hike at 11 p.m. We put on three layers of warm clothes and head lamps, and started hiking up the rocks and scree.

Our seven guides took good care of us. They sang Swahili songs to us and helped those who were having problems or getting tired. As we walked, they kept an eye out for anyone suffering from altitude sickness.

We hiked up a steep trail for seven hours to Gillman's Point, the rim of the volcano. After resting a few minutes, we continued on to the summit.

We made it to Uhuru Peak about 9 a.m. It was a bit cloudy and snowing lightly, but we could still see the glaciers all around. We could only stay for a short while and started back down about 9:30 a.m.

It was very hard walking down the mountain for seven more hours!

We rested at Kibo, then hiked to the lower Horombo Hut, which was an additional three-hour hike, where we stayed the night.

The next morning we hiked an additional 16.8 miles to the park entrance, where we got our bus to the hotel and had a good long shower and dinner to celebrate our experience.

The climb up Kilimanjaro was a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience and the hardest thing any of us had ever done, but it is something none of us will ever forget.

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