Weigh-In’s, Permits & First Steps on Kili’s Slopes – A Journey To The Top Of Kilimanjaro

Day One

From: Machame Gate (1640m) to Machame Camp (2850m)

Altitude: From 1640m to 2850m (or anywhere up to 3015m – we’re undecided!)

Habitat: Rain Forest

Hiking Time: 5 – 7 hours

Distance: 11km’s

The big day had finally arrived.  This was the day that Donna and I were to begin our epic journey to reach the summit of Kilimanjaro. I awoke long before the alarm sounded but I lay there with so many thoughts running through my head. I thought of Emma and smiled as I thought of memories we shared and I longed to have her with me to share this with her too but I knew she was with me in spirit. I thought of all my friends and family all over the world who were thinking of me as this day dawned. I made mental notes of what I still had to pack into my bags.  I lay there with a thousand thoughts whirling through my mind. I had envisioned this trip so many times, what it would be like, what it would feel like and now it was finally here.

The alarm finally sounded and with no time to waste, excitement enveloped our room.  We took turns showering and then packing the last few odd items and filling up our rehydration packs with water.  I had to “borrow” toilet paper rolls from Springlands Hotel because would you believe I had forgotten to pack such an essential item! I can picture my friend reading this and shaking her head ~ we go on the smallest of walks and she always has a roll of toilet paper packed.  Luckily that seemed to be the only item I had forgotten to pack back in South Africa.

At breakfast Thomas took our first reading of our blood oxygen levels and pulse with an oximeter. It’s a little black contraption that slips onto your figure and spits our digits in red telling us oxygen levels and pulse rates. We would have this reading done every morning while on the mountain to ensure that we were still alive enough to continue!

When it was my turn to stick my finger in, my heart was beating ridiculously fast. It’s like my body was getting all worked up in fear that I wouldn’t be okay to head out to the mountain. I was supposed to be “at rest” yet it felt like I had just run a marathon the way it was beating. I felt like everyone sitting around me could hear my heart beating….  The numbers popped up, 84 for pulse and 98 for my oxygen. Thomas scribbled the numbers in the book and moved on to another team member.  Looks like I passed the ‘test’ and was ready for the mountain. I am sure I no doubt sighed with relief!

Our first pulse and oxygen readings for the trip. All alive and well, we all got the nod of approval for departure.

After breakfast our bags were weighed, a sigh of relief from both Donna and I again as we were delighted to find out our bags were not going to break the backs of our porters, although yet again our bags appeared to be heavier than anyone else’s.

My bag on the scale, Thomas checking how much it weighed. I stood back, too scared to see if my bag was overweight or not.

Thomas with our guides Dickson on the left and Milton on the right. These two men were to play instrumental parts for both Donna and I on summit night (and even just typing this brings tears to my eyes thinking about it!)

Our excess luggage was stored, passports and additional money was locked away in the safe. We were almost ready to go. We got news that Simon and Anthony (our airport pick-up’s) had arrived early that morning and were currently having some breakfast.  Our bus pulled up and our bags were loaded.

Not sure about the skull & crossbones, but our bags were packed and Milton for one was ready to hit the road! Photo by Judi Kurgan

Bus loaded, it was time to go.

Bags loaded. Team and guides safely on the bus ~ this was it, we were heading out back onto that bumpy dirt road and out to the slopes of Kilimanjaro!

The day before, I had arranged with my best friend, who was back in South Africa, that I would send sms “Dispatches” to her as I journeyed up the mountain and she would in turn post it up on my facebook page so that everyone following my journey could receive the updates.  As we rode in the bus heading towards Kilimanjaro, I sent my first sms dispatch to Natalie:

8/7/2012  – Time unknown, probably between 8 and 9am.

“Our bags are weighed, we are dressed the part and we are heading to the mountain. We saw the mountain for the 1st time yesterday ~ wow she is beautiful! Snow capped and positively HUGE!! So much bigger than in the pics and literally half way to the sky! Feeling a little nervous but still hugely excited. Can’t wait to get walking! This is Day 1!!

An excited team on the bus, making our way to the mountain. Photo by Donna McTaggart

The rest of the team on the bus ~ heading to Kilimanjaro!!! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Pole Pole (Slowly Slowly)~ Words we would hear thousands of times over the next 7 days.

I don’t remember how long the bus ride took, excited chatter filled the bus, a couple of people closed their eyes. Maybe they had a restless night like me, maybe they were saying a quick prayer. I was excited to get going, I had waited a long time for this day.  The scenery eventually began to change and we were driving through fertile banana and coffee plantations with the Machame village dotted in-between.

The Machame Village dotted between the banana and coffee plantations ~ we were getting close!

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A Blind Lady with a View, Carbo-Loading, Packing & the Final Preparation – A Journey to the Top of Kilimanjaro

Day: Post arrival, pre-kili climb

Dar-es-Salaam to Moshe

Altitude: Sea level to 890m

The final preparation

After a night of five in a room and the occasional “jump to attention” wake-up calls every time Judi shouted out loudly to Thomas, who was sleeping on the floor, to stop snoring, we awoke yet again before the crack of dawn to get ready for our transfer back to the airport.

Up and ready to head to the airport at some ridiculous hour ~ yet again! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Despite our request for breakfast early there was sadly nothing laid out for us upon arrival in the dining hall (okay it was laid out but no one was cooking!) No milk for the cereal and no hot water for a cup of tea or coffee so we headed back outside to wait for our cab.

Parts of breakfast laid out yet no one to make it for us. Photo by Donna Mc Taggart

No breakfast for us, all we could do was wait outside for our taxi to the airport.

It was while waiting outside in the dark that we finally got a call inside saying that breakfast was now ready. This was probably the first and only time I encounted a Tanzanian who was not friendly.  In fact her face was like thunder and it was pointless trying to talk to her!  I can’t really blame her though because working at 5am because guests are hungry and want breakfast isn’t ideal ~ for anyone.  They laid out some fresh fruit for us and bread for toast, it wasn’t much but it would fill the hole that was growing ever bigger and tea, oh my word, we could have a glorious cup of tea because they brought us some hot water. This is where us girls started our love affair with Tanzanian tea!  You see we discovered the best Tanzanian tea, possibly ever, called African Pride.  It was so good that by the end of our trip we would all be buying and packing boxes of this tea to take home with us and which I am still drinking today!

At first it was no breakfast & no tea ~ Our only option was beer anyone?

It was while we were sipping slowly and savouring that delicious tea we were summoned to our taxi that had now arrived. Some shoving of food and gulping of tea quickly ensued for it was time to head to the airport!

Standing in line, waiting to check in ~ Destination Kilimanjaro!

Just seen anything related to Kili gave me goosebumps!

Arriving at the airport, our bags were checked and our shoes were removed. I remember saying thank you under my breath that I didn’t have any socks with holes in them on my feet…. It really was far too early in the morning for all of this!  We checked in smoothly, except for the fact that we had to fork out some dollars to pay for a new tax law that had come into effort as of the 1st of July 2012 ~ funny that no locals seemed to have to pay this money over, just us. Oh well, it’s not polite to argue at the airport so we paid the money over and headed to our boarding gate.  It was here that I first saw the propeller plane we would be flying in. I was relieved to see it was bigger than I had originally thought it would be and I was excited to take my first plane like this.

A propeller plane ~ so early in the morning ~ At least it was bigger than I imagined!

My boarding pass.

Taking off in a propeller plane!

The guy who had checked us in had done his best to seat us on the right hand side of the plane as this is where you would get to catch a glimpse of Kilimanjaro, from the air, for the first time.  Sadly the plane was already full on that side and Donna and I were seated on the left hand side of the plane.  Sussing out good spots to “push in” politely and take photos of the mountain as we flew over, we got ready as the pilot announced it was coming up on the right. Donna and I moved closer to the front of the plane where there were some empty seats but still on the left hand side of the plane and we got into position. This is when we saw a sight that could only make us laugh. There sitting on the right hand side of the plane, in the window seat, was a blind Tanzanian lady. Yes, best you read that again, a blind lady! Did the person who checked her in really think she would a) need a window seat and b) she would actually catch a glimpse of Kilimanjaro?!  The universe surely does have a funny sense of humour sometimes!

I am not sure if it was to our delight or not, but in the end no one on the plane got to catch a glimpse of Kilimanjaro as it was covered in cloud. I guess we would have to wait before catching our first glimpse of the mountain we were about to climb.

Touch down at Kilimanjaro Airport.

After a smooth touch down, we arrived at a cloudy but wonderful warm Kilimanjaro Airport. 

Walking to Kilimanjaro Airport terminal. Photo by Judi Kurgan

A photo opportunity, but Sean was MIA!

Sean, not quite used to us yet, wandered ahead into the airport to collect baggage only to be pulled back by us to join the photos. It really wouldn’t be much longer until he realized that most moments were photo opportunity moments!

We had arrived in the land of the mountain!

We had FINALLY arrived…!

We had arrived and I for one couldn’t wait to catch my first glimpse of Kilimanjaro!

And it sure was worth the wait!!

Baggage collected, we met our driver, who welcomed us warmly. 

We were warmly welcomed by our driver at the airport.

A quick toilet stop on the way out and our first introduction to ‘asian’ toilets in Africa and possibly our best (read that as cleanest) one of the entire trip. Yes, you would be correct in thinking they got worse from here on out.

We had arrived in Africa and our journey with “Asian” toilets had just begun. This was a clean start, it was to get much worse from here. In fact, gum boots might have been good to add-on to the packing list….!!

Quad muscles already growing stronger, our bags loaded in the shuttle bus and we were off to Springlands Hotel in Moshe, ever hopeful of our first sighting of Kilimanjaro!

Driving to our hotel in Moshe ~ we were in “Pole Pole” (Slowly Slowly) land!

Finally we got to the town of Moshe, we turned off the tarred roads and headed down the long dirt road, full of pot holes and really a free-for-all driving experience. There are no rules as to who drives on what side of the road or at what angle, find a good piece of road, irrespective of where on the road, and it’s yours to drive on!

Springlands Hotel, Moshe

Springlands Hotel, Moshe

Arriving at Springlands Hotel we were once again warmly welcomed and we got to meet Barry, another team member for the mountain. Introductions done, we headed off to our room to sort ourselves out.  Donna, Judi and I were in a  ‘pretty’ room together, with 4 four-poster beds. You almost had to remind yourself you were in malaria land and little did we know that our room wouldn’t stay ‘pretty’ for too long!

Our room at Springlands Hotel. Photo by Donna Mc Taggart

We spent the rest of the morning snoozing and lazing around and checking out the place with a small amount of taking everything that was in our luggage out and placing it on the bed. Proper packing would come later!

890m above sea level ~ we were onwards and upwards and this time Barry missed his first photo opportunity with us.

890m above sea level ~ it was a start! Photo by Donna McTaggart

View of the outside dining hall where we did all our carbo loading at breakfast, lunch and supper!

One of the courtyards ~ Springlands Hotel, Moshe

A nice big swimming pool ~ I wonder if it would be wise to do one last set of 200 laps before I started my kili climb?

This might definitely come in handy when we return from 7 days on the mountain! Photo by Donna McTaggart

After lunch, despite full tummies and a huge desire to go and have a nap, us girls opted for a trip into town to change some money, get a local Tanzanian sim card for our phones that would allow us to keep in touch with loved one’s while on the mountain and to just check the place out. We arranged a shuttle to take us into town and we headed back out on that ‘free for all’ dirt road derby.

It was while in the shuttle, bouncing around and chatting to some other tourists who had just finished a Kili climb that something happened and that caused what could only be considered as a commotion of huge proportions. Just typing this I give myself goosebumps remembering. Donna and I sitting behind the drivers seat, bouncing around, they suddenly point ahead. Both Donna and I look out the front window to where their fingers were pointing, we move around following their fingers but we can’t see what they are showing us. You could almost feel the tension in the shuttle.  Then I saw it. I gasped and I grabbed Donna’s arm so hard and fast with my hand, my voice broke as I pointed and told her where to look.  Moving her head even more frantically, desperately trying to see what we saw. Then she saw it too.  We shouted at the drive to stop.  We had to get a photo. Then we remembered our manners and added “Please”.  He stopped, practically in the middle of that dirty road derby, what did anyone care anyway, and we piled out of the car. For there in front of us stood Kilimanjaro!

The clouds, still clinging to her slopes had parted just slighty and for the very first time we got to see her snow-covered majestic slopes. The tears welled up and with shaking hands we stood in the middle of this dirt road and we took our first photos of Kilimanjaro.

No words can describe that moment we first saw her. It’s a feeling that rises up as I think about that moment in that taxi. It’s like I’m back in that taxi seeing her for the first time. Overwhelmed and excited at the same time. It gives me goosebumps every time I think about it. There really are no words! 

Now I realise that the pictures didn’t come out as clearly as we would have liked and you are most likely going to look at them and think these girls were seriously affected by the altitude already. (Impossible I say, we were only at 890m above sea level at this point) but below is one of the photo’s I took.  Just above the tree, to the right where the clouds just part, you can see the snow-covered slope of Kilimanjaro. 

Our first sighting of Kilimanjaro as the clouds finally started to part and gave us a glimpse of her snow-covered slopes for the first time. Halting our taxi and piling out onto a dirt road, we stood there taking it all in! (And it really is there, take another look!)

 After the excitement of seeing Kili for the first time, we hopped back into the taxi and continued our journey into town, thanking everyone in the taxi for giving us that moment with the mountain. In town we changed some of our money, looked around and took plenty of photos!

Changing our dollars into Tanzanian Shillings.

A business day on the streets of Tanzania. Photo by Judi Kurgan (she’s lucky she got away alive after the women moaned at her for taking this pic!)

It was then while wondering down the main road, almost as if calling me to turn around, I stopped and turned around and there before me lay the most beautiful sight I think I have ever seen. There before me, behind the busyness of the street and behind the dilapidated buildings, the clouds had finally parted and Kilimanjaro was finally on full display! I called out to the girls to stop and to take a look at what lay ahead of us the next day….

Finally ~ There she was, the clouds had parted and the snow-covered slopes of Kilimanjaro greeted us as we walked the streets of Moshe, Tanzania!

The next day we would begin our climb. As we walked, every now and again, one of us would turn around to catch another glimpse of the beauty that was Kilimanjaro! Photo by Donna McTaggart

There really is no way to describe the first time you see Kilimanjaro and the pictures do not do her justice.  She is enormous, so much bigger than any picture I have ever seen of her, she looms large against the backdrop of the sky and standing there in the middle of the main road, I smiled.  It was really real. The next day we would begin climbing her, all the way to the top. After so long, we were finally, finally almost on her slopes.

Walking the streets of Moshe, checking out scene!

A home away from home! We popped our heads into the pub and told the locals enjoying a cold one we were from Cape Town and we loved the welcome! :)

After an exciting walk around town, we headed back to the hotel where we decided to start the mammoth task of packing our bags for the journey that lay before us.  We all had various zip-lock bags marked with the various days and which was to hold our clothes for each day, our snacks and all important things like that. It was to make it easier when we were at high altitude to find what we needed without having to scrounge around in our bags and in an attempt to avoid that sheer panic when you can’t find something you really need, like your summit gloves for instance! 

Batteries were on charge, phones were on charge and there was a wonderful busyness that filled the air in our room.

Let the packing commence…! Photo by Donna McTaggart

Just before 6pm we headed out into the courtyard to meet with the rest of our team. We had business to discuss!  Two of our guides were to meet with Thomas and our team to finalize things like tips and to give us a briefing as to what would happen the next day and how things were going to work.

Once seated Thomas pulled out a little black book and put two questions to us.

  1. What is motivating you to do Kili?
  2. If the going gets tough, what is it going to take to get you to the top?

We were now just over 12 hours away from leaving for the slopes of Kilimanjaro. The excitement was huge and yet the realization of what we were about to do was finally starting to hit home. These questions made me feel vulnerable and knowing my answers to both, the lump in my throat began to rise.

This is what I wrote in Thomas’s little black book ~ This was my reason for getting to the top of Kilimanjaro! No matter what, I had to make it to the top.

We each had to write in the book whatever the reason/s were why we were here and what would get us to the top and if it was needed, Thomas would remind us of those very reasons on summit night, in the pitch blackness of the night, as we climbed the steep route to the top. As much as we wanted to get to the top, Thomas wanted us to get there too. 

It was at this meeting too that Thomas announced that our group of 5 had become 7.  Remember those two guys we met at Johannesburg airport? Yup, Anthony and Simon had phoned Thomas earlier in the day and confirmed they would in fact be joining our team on our bid to summit Kilimanjaro. We were excited to welcome them onto our team. As one of my friends always says, “the more the merrier and the louder the laughter!”  I couldn’t agree more.

Once all the ‘business’ was taken care of, all that was left to do was have dinner, finish packing and for me the most important of all, start and finish the banner I had planned to make for Emma for when I reached the summit.

The courtyard at Springlands Hotel by night.

Excited chatter filled the room, with often someone questioning if their bag would be too heavy or whether they should pack this or that. There was plenty of laughter and once the packing was done I started work on my banner. I don’t recall exactly how it started but there was a suggestion of a photo with the sign (even thought it was far from finished) and then somewhere, somehow the “three peaks” started…. Really, don’t ask because I really don’t know, all I know is that we were suddenly making up the three peaks of Kilimanjaro….

The beginning of my banner for the summit and the start of the “three peaks”

The packing done, the girls got ready for bed as I continued till late into the night working on my banner for the summit. Just after 12am I finished up, happy with the end result, I folded the banner up neatly and placed it in my backpack that I would carry every day and where it would now stay until I summited Kilimanjaro.

I crawled into bed quietly so as not to wake the girls.

I wondered if they were fully asleep and if so what they were dreaming.

Tomorrow was going to be a big day.

I was exhausted, yet I struggled to sleep that night.

A mixture of pure excitement.

With a touch of nerves.

We were down to a few hours.

Tomorrow, we would begin climbing Kilimanjaro…


~ All Photos By Me & My Friends ~

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