We spend a lot of time talking to our guests about Kilimanjaro, and what it’s like to climb “the Monix way”. So we thought we should write a blog to explain how it looks and feels, and how it differs from a lot of the other offerings. The blog is more about life on the mountain, than a detailed account of the route itself.
It’s fair to say that Kilimanjaro is big business for Tanzania, and for the hundreds of operators (and thousands of resellers) who promote the mountain. The peak has to withstand the tremendous strain put on it by some 40,000 trekkers every year, all plodding towards it’s conical summit.
Almost everyone will know somebody who’s climbed Kili, and we’ve heard stories ranging from “it’s a piece of cake” to the more frequent “hardest thing I’ve done in my life”, and everything in between. As someone who’s climbed Everest, I can honestly say that the summit day on Kili is genuinely tough, and asks a lot of even the fittest of trekkers. That said, with the right mix of acclimatisation, quality rest, basic fitness, and a pinch of good luck, there is nothing that makes the peak unattainable.
There will be the purists who’ll ask if they can carry their own bag, or do it “solo” (the answer’s no, Park regulations). They might even suggest doing it with so much comfort is “cheating”. But the fact is, Kilimanjaro is a once in a lifetime trip for many people, so it should be special. It should also be enjoyable, and there is very little to be proud of by suffering for a week in a leaky tent, with an empty stomach, and an unhappy crew who aren’t properly paid or tipped. So we strive to make the whole experience comfortable, memorable and successful.
So, how do our trips shape up? And how do we achieve a consistent 100% summit success rate?
It usually starts at our client’s office, or kitchen, or a favourite pub, where we give the trip overview and what it’ll take to get the team to the mountain and back again. Information is broad stroke, and we put any immediate concerns at ease. Between the initial meeting and stepping on to the plane to Africa, we are in regular contact with the team, answering questions about kit, sending them links on which socks we recommend, and making sure their favourite drinks will be waiting for them when they step off the mountain. Then the adventure begins.
Landing in Tanzania always awakens the senses, and can be overwhelming for those who’ve never been to Africa. There’s a buzz of general chaos in the airport, and this is the first chance we get to make the team feel at ease again. One of our drivers will be waiting, usually accompanied by the Guide we send from the U.K, and sometimes even myself and Laura. We then whisk the team away to a little haven of tranquility, a beautiful lodge on the outskirts of Arusha. Once checked in and freshened up, we run a briefing and a final kit check, we introduce the local guide team and set the schedule for the next day. The team always knows what time they need to be ready, and what the next day will entail. There’s no stress for our guests, and we work with our local crew busily in the background to ensure everything is ready.
Finally, the time comes to start the climb itself. There’s usually a degree of trepidation, as there’ll have often been months of build up before the trip. It’s always a welcome relief when the routine of expedition life starts to kick in, and the whole team (including our local crew) start to find their rhythm. We typically have up to 10 porters per guest on our top spec climbs, this means our porters are never overloaded. They also have their own tents where they can rest and relax together. They are the glue that keeps the Kilimanjaro industry together, and without them, only a fraction of trekkers would come close to summiting the mountain. We look after our crew, and they look after us. They always win the respect of our clients too, as they seem to effortlessly overtake us each day.
Our preferred route on Kili is the Lemosho, which we always climb over 8 days. The first few days are quieter, more remote, and more beautiful than the most frequented routes. For those who have stricter time restraints, we occasionally climb via the Machame route over 7 days. Very rarely, we have also run the technical ascent of Kilimanjaro via the steep Umbwe route and then straight up the flank of the mountain on the Western Breach.
Whichever route we’re operating, the daily routine remains very similar. There’s a knock on the tent door in the morning, with freshly ground coffee or tea. Hot water is provided for a morning wash and freshen up. Then, breakfast is served in one of our large dining tents where we have tables and high backed chairs. It usually kicks off with porridge, followed by a fried breakfast of sausages, bacon, eggs and toast. To finish, there’s sweet, fresh, locally picked fruit.
The team usually rolls out of camp between 8am and 9am, depending on weather, how the team is getting on, and which camp we need to reach that afternoon. On the longer days, lunch is served on the trail. We’ll reach a point roughly half way, where the dining tent will be erected and we’ll eat a hearty meal to get us through the afternoon. It’s usually a soup, followed perhaps by pasta, and finished with fruit and hot drinks.
After 5-8hrs of hiking, we’ll roll in to camp. Throughout the day our entire army of porters will have overtaken us with the tents and provisions, and erected camp for the next night before we arrive. All it leaves the team to do is find their tent. There’s then some hot drinks and snacks, and a couple of hours down time before dinner. On our top spec trips, we take a shower tent so guests often have a hot shower. It has a huge effect on morale after a long day of hiking! The evening meal is then served and is usually 3 or 4 courses. We spend a lot of time training our cooks in the off-season, and it really pays off. They produce some incredible meals in far from ideal conditions at 4,000m! It’s all the more impressive when you remember that they’re also doing the same trekking as everyone else. It’s not unusual to find our teams polishing off steak and chips, and we have fresh meat and fruit sent up to camps every couple of days.
After dinner, it’s time to turn in. The tents we use are all spacious and built to withstand all weathers. The teams climbing on our VIP trips will have a standing height tent, with a full size aluminium cot bed, sleeping bag, blanket and pillow. Because the thing you need most after a long day, is a good night’s sleep.
Dawn breaks with a knock on the tent, and so the routine repeats itself. It’s wonderfully simple, and all that’s left for you to do, is enjoy the journey.