Kilimanjaro - The Monix Way

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.



Climbing the highest mountain in the Arctic Part 1

Recently we've been in talks with clients about some very exciting projects they would like to work on over the next year or so. This got us thinking about personal projects we have taken on in the past, and challenges we would like to do in the future. 

Here's Part 1 of the story of our Greenland Expedition - May 2014


After several months of planning and training, the time had come to start our adventure to Greenland. The plan was ambitious; to climb the highest peaks in the Arctic, and make an ascent of a previously unclimbed mountain. 
It was hard to imagine the polar climate of the Arctic as we packed our kit bags in our home in Dubai. The temptation to be dismissive of just how cold it might get was something we were very mindful of as we shuffled down jackets and heavy duty mittens into various piles on the floor of our spare room. Finally though, it was time to start our long journey, and it was with some relief that the day had finally come to leave Dubai and start heading North. We flew via the UK where we saw friends and family, who seemed a little concerned for us! We repacked, shaving more weight off our kit and leaving behind all of our luxuries. With just one ski bag and one kitbag between us, we flew to Iceland, and then onwards to the Northern tip of the country, from where we'd fly in a small ski equipped plane to Greenland. 

We sat at a round table in the tiny domestic airport, killing time before our pilots and private aircraft was ready. Our first sector was from Akureyri (Iceland) to a small gravel landing strip on the coast on Greenland, called Constable Point. We heard there was freezing fog at Constable Point, which delayed our departure by six long hours. We eventually flew to Greenland, high above the icebergs and frozen ocean. By the time we landed, our pilots didn't have enough duty hours remaining to take us on to the glacier, a further two hours flight inland. So we spent the night in a bunkhouse, getting twitchy and ever more eager to finally touch the snow and get started!

The next morning we took off, just Laura and I in the back of our plane, and flew over hundreds of miles of pristine Arctic wilderness. It was shades of white, blue and black, with peaks jutting out of the icecap. It was visually stunning but the sense of commitment became ever greater as we realised we were getting further and further away from civilisation and medical help. If anything went wrong , we knew we had no margin for error. Our guide, Simon, was waiting at Base Camp, a cluster of 3 tents on an otherwise blank canvas of glacier. He'd been escorting a small team the week before and was staying on to lead our trip. The plane then took off, leaving just the three of us, feeling very insignificant against such a vast backdrop.

We had lunch and a full briefing on all of our emergency kit: satellite phones, beacons, flares. We also discussed polar bear safety and procedures. We slept with a rifle in each tent and prayed we wouldn't see a bear. We hoped we were far enough inland that none would be passing, and we certainly never wanted to be in the situation where we'd have to shoot one of the beautiful animals. Fortunately, we didn't see so much as a trace of any wildlife for the whole trip! That afternoon, we fitted skins to our skis; thin mohair sheets which grip the snow. We'd be walking everywhere on skis, as it spreads the weight and enables easier passage over very deep snow. We also adjusted our pulks, the large plastic sleds which we dragged behind us containing all of our food and kit.

The next day we started a long ski tour to a high camp on Gunnbjornsfjeld, the highest mountain in the Arctic. We thought we'd climb this mountain first, and as it was Rhys's birthday we felt particularly excited about it. We loaded our pulks and walked towards the horizon, aiming to turn at the base of a ridge line, and then ski up steeper slopes to a small flat area where we'd pitch our tent. We planned to travel light, taking just two nights of food, as we'd summit the mountain the next day, sleep, and then return to Base Camp the following day. Our pulks felt like they were full of lead. Rhys said that hauling it up to high camp was one of the hardest days of his life (even compared to climbing Mt Everest). It was sheer physical effort, for hours on end and mile after mile. We finally reached camp after 9 hours, exhausted. We melted snow to make boiling water for our freeze dried meals, and collapsed into our sleeping bags.

Spot Simon..

Spot Simon..

We woke up after a long and cold night of perpetual daylight. The tent was shaking in the wind as we got dressed for the climb. We set off from camp and each had to stop to put on our spare layers of clothing. Extra jackets, thicker gloves, balaclavas. We just couldn't stay warm. It was around -30c and the wind was increasing. We decided that the only sensible decision was to retreat to our tent and wait for the wind to die down. We would certainly have got frostbite in those conditions, so we hunkered down in the tent for the afternoon. We were secretly glad of the extra rest, still feeling drained from the previous day. That evening the wind picked up even more, shaking the tent violently. It continued to do so for the next 2 days, with no respite. The 3 of us were sharing one small tent so there was no privacy. We also ran out of freeze dried meals, not planning to stay so long at the camp. Instead we ate soup and the rations we'd singled out as being our lest favourite; tinned sardines, mushroom paste, and it was becoming tiresome. 

On the fourth morning the wind was dying down, so we decided to make an attempt on the summit, else we'd have to return all the way to Base Camp, and then ski all the way back up again to have a second attempt. It had been a long few days cooped up in the tent, and we were pleased to be outside and moving again. That said, we were tired and hand't been eating well, so the thought of a long summit day was hard to take on with the usual amount of enthusiasm! We were just pleased that the weather was improving and we had a shot at the summit... 

Monix gives back to the mountains

During a recent trip to Chamonix, Rhys and I took part in a very important day during the Arc'teryx Alpine Academy. Alongside Guides Du Mont-Blanc, Arc'teryx Athletes and mountain lovers from across the globe we set out to collect as much rubbish from 2 popular trails on the Aiguille Du Midi and the Mer De Glace. 

Whilst walking along the trails you are unable to see how much rubbish is hiding around you. However it only takes a good look underneath a boulder to see the extent of the littering.

In 6 hours we collected two full black bags of rubbish which included glass bottles, tin cans, plastic bottles and food packets. As a team we collected a shocking 1.5 tonnes of rubbish from the mountain. 

We finished the day feeling like we had given something back to the mountains which have given so much to us. 

Monix continues to support responsible travel and make sure that we continue to leave only footprints.