Hiking is something I typically only do if there’s a waterfall involved, or an epic viewpoint. I don’t really feel the need to prove my strength to myself (or anyone else), or do strenuous exercise just for the hell of it.
I do however tend to chase after the most extreme bucketlist adventures I can find, so you can probably imagine my immediate response when Whoa Travel asked if I’d be interested in representing badass women worldwide by summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro with them on International Women’s Day. ‘Hell yes.’
To be completely honest, I had three tour companies ask me to do this particular hike for Women’s Day (talk about an ego boost), but I chose Whoa Travel without question because the company is for women only, and founded by two ambitious ladies who I felt I shared many similar qualities with.
Their itinerary sounded fun, extremely well-planned, and exciting, and I especially liked their efforts to only work with local guide and porter companies that are certified under Kilimanjaro Porters Association Project (KPAP).
When we finally agreed that I was going, there was only a few weeks left before the trip. So I’ll start my experience with how I prepared, followed by the daily break down of my trek to Mt. Kilimanjaro.
NOTE: Many people ask/wonder about what your fitness level needs to be for this trek. I should mention up front that I literally walk the World full time and am usually carrying between 10-20 pounds of baggage, which keeps me pretty fit. So although I may say I didn’t actually train, my daily activities are my training. If you’ve never hiked before and want to do Kilimanjaro, you may want to either start with a smaller hike, or start practicing hiking starting now!
More Notes About my Health/Fitness Levels:
- I’m a vegetarian but eat fish (AKA a “pescatarian” but I refuse to use the word as I believe it was made up in LA)
- I’m 30 years young, have never had and health problems or injuries even though I’ve flipped a car
- I don’t go to a gym or work out intentionally, but I do walk a lot, climb things, and run through airports very often
- I don’t have any allergies but used to have asthma when I was young which I got over by insisting on having a cat
- I have chronic lucid dreaming which means I’m able to sleep easily and a lot (even though it’s annoying because I have to control my dreams)
- I have a very strong mentality that I can do anything.
Check out these posts for more answers and information about training and who should hike Kili!
’50 Tips for Trekking Mt. Kilimanjaro’
’10 Questions About Kilimanjaro Answered’
‘The Ultimate Kilimanjaro Packing Guide’
T-minus 5 weeks: “Training” for the Trek
Working out and training are not my things, but I should probably emphasize that traveling the world solo full time is an extreme workout.
I carry a 10-15 pound drone backpack with all of my camera gear, an 8-10 pound purse, plus roll a suitcase for at least five hours per week all together, and I carry at least my backpack or purse every single day.
I also walk EVERYWHERE, constantly seek adventures (AKA things to climb), I’m a “pescatarian” and eat super healthy, and I sleep at least 8 hours per night. In my mind, all of that counted as “training for Kilimanjaro”.
Contrary to what most people think when they see me, I knew without a doubt I could hike Mt. Kilimanjaro. I knew this because I have a very strong mentality of thinking I’m able to do anything I set out to achieve.
At most, I was worried about not being able to work for a week, and getting anxiety from being bored while walking for 5-10 hours at a time. I considered maybe getting tired, or my legs hurting as well, but that could happen any day just from my typical activities. I knew it wasn’t something I’d even remember after the hike.
I also didn’t really need to convince myself of anything. All I had to do was announce to about 200k people on social media that I was doing it, and boom. I had no other option but to reach that summit! I ended up reaching it first.
On a real note though, you need to just keep the idea in your head that you’re GOING to summit, and everything along the way is going to be a really fun experience.
Out of all the epic hikes, climbs, and walks I’ve done, I’ve never felt the need to invest in a good pair of hiking boots. As a full time traveler, I consider them bulky, expensive, and ugly, so usually I’d just wear some cheap boots I pick up in random countries. Obviously a 7 day hike up one of the World’s 7 summits was a different story.
I had my tattered lace up boots I bought in Cape Town for $15 that had been through the Inca Trail, and all over Iceland, and some brown ones that recently got me through Easter Island, Patagonia, and Antarctica.
But since I was going to literally be walking up a mountain for 7 days, I decided to just order an official pair of actual hiking boots. Also because I didn’t feel like having the other hikers look at me like an idiot for wearing “inappropriate shoes”.
After scouring REI (where I was told “The Mountain isn’t going to judge you.” after I asked if they had boots in any other colors) and then the internet, I finally found a nice looking pair of Colombia hiking boots that could double as regular-wearing-shoes as well, since I’d need to wear them while traveling before and after the trek as too.
I got half a size bigger than my normal size, knowing I’d want to shove extra thick socks in there, and have room for my toes to move and get circulation.
Other than the boots, I ordered a new pair of fleece-lined long underwear, a 35 L hot pink collapsable backpack (which everyone else but me was concerned about since it didn’t have a waist strap), a rad leopard-face balaclava (face and head mask), a hot pink compact-able light down jacket, a 20,000mAh charger, and a water bladder. These were all mandatory packing list items that I didn’t have.
I borrowed SmartWool socks from an ex boyfriend, was given heavy duty waterproof winter gloves by my snowmobiling guide in Lapland, picked up slip-on crampons in Norway, and got sponsored by a protein bar, sunscreen, and heated jacket company.
The rest of the gear I didn’t have, or didn’t want to carry, I rented in Moshi — the town you leave from to do Kili. PS — if you don’t have the gear on the packing list and don’t foresee yourself hiking/camping many mountains, or don’t want to carry bulky stuff, do yourself a favor and just rent it! You can coordinate it all through your Whoa Travel GALs!
T-minus 3 days: Arriving in Moshi, Tanzania
Since I had already been traveling, and had some free time before the trek, I had decided to go to Kenya for a safari before heading to Moshi, Tanzania. Since Kenya is a Yellow Fever Zone, I actually ended up having to get a Yellow Fever shot AT the Moshi airport. But it was only $50 and I finally got it out of the way, so I was pretty happy about it.
After getting the shot, I met Nicole, who’s one of the Whoa GALs (girl adventure leaders), and hopped in a taxi that costed another $50. Apparently no matter what, that’s the cost for a cab to or from the airport. Transfers were technically included with the trek, but since I came early and stayed late, I had to pay.
Anyway, after checking into my hotel called The Secret Garden, and starring at the clear view of Kilimanjaro for a bit, we walked 15 minutes into town. I claimed it counted as Kili training. Nicole agreed (and she’s summited 7 times).
We decided to do a “lunch crawl”, and have small bites and beer at a couple of nice outdoor restaurants around town. I bought a bracelet with “Kilimanjaro” engraved on it at one of them, which meant I really was going to do that damn summit!
I also picked up the Diamox (altitude sickness medicine) at a local pharmacy for super cheap, which you can do if you forget to get it in the U.S., or if it’s expensive. You’ll need the 250mg tablets, which you’ll break in half and take twice per day.
T-minus 2 days: Prepping to Leave
The day before leaving to start the Whoa Travel itinerary to Mt. Kilimanjaro (they count the day before as part of the itinerary since they plan a volunteer activity and dinner), I spent a solid 8 hours straight working from my laptop to make sure all of my work was done or scheduled for the entire week that I wouldn’t be able to do anything on the mountain.
Later, Nicole and a GAL-in-training came to meet me for food and to do a pre-gear check which I purposely did for an Instagram Story. Surprisingly, I actually had all of the required gear, minus a water bottle which I just picked up from a corner store for about $5.
T-Minus 1 day: Gear Checks and Volunteer Work
The day before leaving for the trek, I was transferred from my budget hotel to the new, luxurious Kilimanjaro Wonders Hotel which is included for one night before and after the trek with the Whoa Travel package.
I met most of the other girls in the group of 22, all of which had just flown in either that day or the night before.
We started the day right away with a visit to a local school with many orphan children attending it. I’d volunteered with little kids a lot, so I knew to expect to hold a lot of hands, get my hair played with, and participate in singing and dancing circles. It was magical, however as always, heartbreaking since I feel like I’m never there long enough to truly make an impact.
After playing with the kids for a while, we went back to the hotel to pick up our rental gear (if we ordered it), lay alllllll of our stuff out, and wait for the guides to do the official gear checks.
You HAD to have EVERYTHING on the packing list, or else you had to rent it. I passed with flying colors since I had of course done a pre-pre-check the night before. And even though most of my stuff was from Amazon and all hot pink.
Kilimanjaro Day 1: The Rainforest
Hike Time: 5-7 hours
Distance: 11 km
Elevation: 1,800 – 3,000 meters
Camp: Machame Camp
We left the hotel by 8am, and drove an hour to the gates of the Machame Route up Kilimanjaro. It took a couple of hours to get us signed in, so we had some of our prepared box lunches, did final bathroom breaks, and chatted a lot since it was our first time all together and we were trying to get to know each other.
Finally after we all signed in, we were off to the gates, walking two by two in a line following one of our guides. It took us all a bit to figure out how to hike in a line, and also how to move to single file on one side of the path to let the porters go by, but eventually we got it.
I was immediately faced with what I already knew would be one of my biggest obstacles — having to stay behind the guide. This problem comes from years of being independent, traveling solo, being ambitious, and striving to be first at everything. I remembered being allowed to go at my own pace on the Inca Trail hike to Machu Picchu and resultantly would get to the camps an hour before my group, but this was a different situation where the group staying together was essential for everyone to summit.
So I slapped my ego in the face, told it to calm the F down, and meandered in the front and middle sections of the line as I tried to get to know as many people as possible. Turns out chatting is a great way to pass the time by…but also makes you fairly exhausted. (Spoiler alert: by the third day I was first in line behind the guide for every hike including the summit, and also finally was allowed to leave the guides the last day where I was one of the first to get off the mountain…it wasn’t because I wanted to be first, but more because the pace I go at makes it way easier for me and less painful on my legs and lungs).
Anyway! The rainforest section of the mountain was beautiful, with lush green trees and plants, and the occasional monkey. It was the first time we had to try peeing in the bushes together which was a little awkward at first, but also something we picked up quickly.
I actually thought Day 1 was supposed to be one of the easier days, but found out later at camp that it was one of the harder ones because of the 1200 meter elevation gain. I also found out at camp who my tent mate was (Sidenote: Up until that morning I assumed I’d have my own tent for the week), and she’s now one of my favorite humans on earth.
Our tents were just spacious enough for two people plus our duffels and day packs, plus they had a little tent-patio attached which made an area for our dirty shoes, poles, and the warm water tubs for washing before meals. Although the porters carry the duffels, and set up the tents, we were in charge of setting up and packing up our sleeping bags, clothes, etc., and shoving them back into the duffels, which we locked shut using a mandatory luggage lock.
Much to my surprise, we also found out that we got our very own private camp toilets, which were essentially tall-slender tents with actual little portable toilets inside of them! There were porters whose extra jobs were just taking care of the bathrooms (they got paid extra, thank god), so the toilets were always clean and as-pleasant-as-possible to use! This was and still is super exciting for me, considering how disgusting campsite bathrooms are!
Anyway, we rested for a bit, washed up, then had our first delicious dinner. You get fish on the first night because you get served food in the order that it defrosts (fish defrosts fastest). The server-porters did an excellent job at remembering who got the special gluten-free dishes…but for some reason could never remember that I was vegetarian! I didn’t mind, just mostly thought it was funny. Except not when I couldn’t tell what had meat in it…I would have had the shits and vomits if I ate meat, but luckily my new crew of gfs always immediately pointed out what did or did not have meat in it!
After dinner the guides did our health checks, which consisted of taking our Oxygen and heart rates, then briefed us with the plan for the next day, before we all went to bed and passed out.
Kilimanjaro Day 2: The Heath
Hike Time: 4-6 Hours
Distance: 5 km
Elevation: 3,000 – 3,840 m
Camp: Shira Camp
Difficulty: Not that hard
After spending the entire previous day thinking that was the “easy day” and today was going to be the “hard day”, it of course made for an extra easy day for me. We left the misty, towering canopy layer of the rainforest, and climbed higher up the mountain through what’s referred to as “the heath”.
This area has less oxygen, so instead of massive, vibrant trees and plants teeming with luscious life, you see more millennial plants (AKA succulents), mosses, and a lot more rocks and boulders.
Since there was a lot of rain, there were also a lot of WATERFALLS, which I was beyond excited to climb over! We literally had to tip toe across stepping stones at the bases and rims of waterfalls. It was insane! And yes, I balanced my GoPro on a selfie stick while doing it.
We got to camp by lunch time, had our hot meal, and then had the option to nap. There wasn’t much else to do since it was raining, which was a blessing in disguise because it cancelled the additional hour acclimation hike the guides were planning. But it also ruined my plans to go off and get epic photos around the campsite.
When we woke up from naps, it was time to eat again (they really feed you well, and make sure you’re eating so you don’t get sick), then do health checks, get briefed, and go back to bed.
Kilimanjaro Day 3: Lava Tower
Hike Time: 6-8 hours
Disstance: 10 km
Elevation: 3,840 – 4,600 – 3,950 m
Camp: Lava Tower (lunch) & Barranco Camp
Difficulty: Hard AF
Just by looking at the map of the Machame Route, I could tell that Day 3 was going to be hard AF. For starters, it was a long distance, and then I was told it’s specifically meant to acclimate you. AKA, we were going to be climbing very high.
What made things even harder was that it had decided to snow before we got there, and a storm also picked up while we were hiking. The guides and GALs said it was super rare to have that much snow, and it made the hike a lot more difficult than it normally is. Luckily I had just came from the Arctic though, so it wasn’t much different than what I had been doing for the 2 weeks before…aside from the hiking a mountain part.
The climate zone here is referred to as the “Arctic Desert” because usually it’s very dry and cold, but lucky us, we also had snow covering the rocks and pathways. This made it extra hard to climb, especially going down the steep backside of Lava Tower, which had switchbacks covered in ice.
Once again I had over-estimated the difficulty level (this actually proved to be a good thing each time), and thought we were going even higher than we did. You see, at the top of the Lava Tower camp, there’s an additional sheer-rock mini-mountain that I could have sworn we’d be scaling like ninjas to get to the top of as our acclimation exercise. I literally asked the guide (Jeffery), “So we still have to go up that thing right?” when we got close to the top, to which he laughed hysterically and said, “What?! Nooooooo!” This at least made me feel super excited that we were already done when I could have sworn we’d have an hour left!
The elevation we reached at Lava Tower was 4,600 meters — the highest we had been yet, and many of us could feel the altitude. We only stayed for lunch though luckily, since we were all freezing and feeling the slight headaches. To give you somewhat of an idea of how you might feel — it’s kind of like you’ve been in the sun for way too long, but it’s also freezing. Don’t forget that Diamox!
After lunch, we still had another few hours to reach our next camp, Barranco Camp, which was back down at 3,900 meters. It had some really cool, tall, funky Dr. Seuss trees at the entrance, which Nicole and I ran ahead to take photos of (no clue how I still had that much energy!). We also got to use our phones since that camp had some service.
Pro tip: Look for the porters and guides on their phones to figure out where the good spots are for cell service! Also see my post on ’50 Tips For Climbing Kilimanjaro’ for info on how to get local SIM cards!
After that long and treacherous day, we all wanted desperately to pass out as soon as we arrived at camp. But we still forced ourselves to eat dinner, do health checks, and get briefed before sleeping. By the way, each night we were served soup, and tonights was probably the best — they made some sort of ginger vegetable soup which really helped the headaches from altitude!
This was also the night I discovered that melting spoonfuls of Nutella in my hot chocolate was the most genius idea on the planet. You’ll get powdered chocolate mix…but go ahead and add in that Nutella. Thank me later.
Kilimanjaro Day 4: Barranco Wall
Hike Time: 4-5 hours
Distance: 5 km
Camp: Karanga Camp
Elevation: 3,950 – 4,000 meters
The GALs kept saying that the Barranco Wall was their favorite hike of the trek, so I woke up pretty excited to see what it was about. It had been raining all night again, and I begged the universe to make it stop so I wouldn’t have to climb rocks in a flimsy poncho.
As we were packing up and getting ready to head for the rock wall, the rain actually did stop, and a beautiful rainbow came out of nowhere!
We started up the wall single file since the pathway is very narrow and very steep. I personally love climbing things, so this rock wall was a fun game for me. I even snuck past the guide to get a photo of me crossing the Kissing Rock by myself, which he partially freaked out about and ran to try and help me. But it was too late. I had kissed the rock and scaled the wall all by myself.
They call it the “Kissing Rock”, because you literally have to hug this giant boulder that sticks out from the wall in order to hold on, and step across an extremely narrow cliff passageway. Usually a guide stands behind you unless you’re a crazy adrenaline junky like me who sneaks off to do it on your own. You probably should not do that. Then I will be called a “bad influence”. Wouldn’t be the first time!
Anyway, when we got higher up, Kili changed her mind again and decided she wanted us to wear ponchos, so we put them on and kept climbing in the rain. Eventually we reached the top and made a pretty epic dance video with the summit in the background. Well, everyone else looked epic besides me, who had no idea what “Do the Beyonce Single Ladies move!” meant and decided to booty shake instead, while trying to look around and see what everyone else was doing…awkwarrddddd.
Finally we reached Karanga Camp, again in time for a hot lunch, nap, dinner, health check, then sleep. The briefing tonight was the first game plan announcement for summiting, which was both exciting and terrifying at the same time.
By the way, this is waaayyyyy too much information, but day 4 was the first time I actually had to go to the bathroom. It slightly worried the GALs when I divulged this gross piece of information, but I assured them that I trained my body to not go number two if the environment isn’t right for it (haha). Anyway. I finally went and it was the only time I went for the whole week. A third the group admitted they had diharrea (I know it’s spelled wrong but I am NOT googling the correct spelling in case a photo pops up) though, which is totally normal and a side effect of the Diamox.
In all honesty, I can’t fully remember the camp from this day because it was raining. I remember passing people who were for some reason trying to huddle under the overhang of the bathrooms (ew), and I remember a guy saying something obnoxious to us as we approached the camp, but we mostly just went straight to our tents.
Oh wait I do remember something — I remember thinking it was a good idea to try to wash off my flimsy muddy poncho in my warm water wash bucket. Super fail because the mud would not come off, and instead I just had a muddy, completely soaked poncho. The waiter-porters were nice enough to try to help me hang it up in the mess tent, but it was too cold and wet outside to dry.
So note to you — try to keep your poncho out of the mud and the wearable side dry! Another side note…I don’t like to talk about people unless they are really doing something that irritates me, but I have to mention again one girl out of the whole group who was that token “more-experienced hiker” (AKA know-it-all) who had something annoying rather than helpful to say about EVERYTHING.
I remember trying to explain why my poncho was hanging up in the mess tent and her chiming in with “The inside of your poncho should be dry.” despite me already announcing my not-so-genius-idea to dunk it in my water bin to get the mud off. Please don’t be like this to people in your group. Be like the five other amazing girls who all stood up and came over with their one breakfast napkin to help attempt to dry it off.
Kilimanjaro Day 5: Trek to Basecamp
Hike Time: 4-5 hours
Distance: 4 km
Camp: Kosovo Camp
Elevation: 4,000 – 4,600 m
Today was the big day. We knew the game plan was to pack up and head towards base camp, except ours would be an hour farther, and much higher than Barafu Camp where the majority of trekkers go. Whoa Travel did this on purpose because that extra hour is up (and down) a steep rocky path with many difficult switchbacks, which is said to be the hardest hour before and after summit. So to omit this obstacle, we were going to do it today and not have to worry about it anymore. Bye.
We hiked through another Arctic Desert with stunning views, which wasn’t too difficult, but pretty cold. At some point on all the days though you get really cold and really hot, which is where being smart about layering comes in handy. We also would stop to take layering and delayering breaks, in addition to our usual rest, water, pee, and snack breaks.
After passing the crowded Barafu camp, we started the climb up to the higher altitude Kosovo camp around noon. We were told not to look at the faces of the people coming down from the summit at this hour, because if it took this long to come down, they were probably having difficulties, and their faces might scare us.
We only passed a few people who were being half carried by their porters down this difficult stretch, but all the people we passed had some sort of sun and/or wind burn on their faces. It didn’t so much scare me as it did remind me to slather on sunscreen and take extra Diamox. By the way, you’re technically not supposed to take more Diamox when you think you feel altitude sickness symptoms, but I totally did right before summit (sorry guides and GALs, I swear it was only an extra half!).
Like always, the porters reached the camp ahead of us and were already setting up our tents. They had to use shovels to dig the snow off the ground to put our tents down, otherwise we would have froze our asses off. Literally.
I’m not sure if it was because I was wearing ALL of my layers, or somehow snow is less cold than rain, but this camp wasn’t as brutally cold as some of the others. By the way, the reason why we were able to stay at Kosovo instead of Barafu, is because the Whoa GALs just know to ask for a permit to stay up there. Anyone can camp there with a permit, they usually just don’t know to ask, and they don’t consider that it makes the summit a lot easier for their trekkers.
Being able to see the top of the mountain from camp sparked a lot of excitement and of course a little anxiety. It’s REALLY high, but all I kept thinking was how badass I was going to feel at the top of a mountain that I saw poking out from the clouds from the plane.
Being that high up also made me feel a few new things…I started getting a slight headache but couldn’t tell if it was because of how bright the snow and sun were (intermittently since clouds would roll in and out really quickly). The mood of the group also shifted as some of the girls started to feel the altitude and cold too, and of course, the nerves.
In all honesty, I was mostly concerned about being cold and sleepy since we weren’t going to sleep a full 8-9 hours like every other night before hiking. I didn’t care if I had a headache; it would go away, and I didn’t care if I puked; it would make for a good story (even though I didn’t). I cared about how much it was going to suck if I got frostbite and if I maybe fell asleep while walking and had to get left in the snow (would never happen but these are the things I think of).
The schedule for the next 24 hours was to eat lunch, nap, eat dinner, nap, wake up at 11pm, and start the summit at 12am. Again, my only concern was not getting to sleep and being cold.
In the mess tent for lunch I ended up shocking everyone by constantly checking the sky outside to see if there was sun to take a photo. When there finally was, I literally ran up a small mountain at our camp (immediately feeling the altitude on my lungs since I decided to run instead of walk “pole pole”), threw off my two jackets, wrapped my travel skirt over my snow pants and boots, and did a photo shoot of myself with the setting sun next to the top of Kilimanjaro. I did it to prove that just because I am feminine, does not mean I’m not a badass.
Also, I’m not a religious person, but I am definitely a rogue-spiritual-earth-universe-loving person. I believe that ever since I started traveling three years ago, and also sadly, ever since my grandpa passed away, I’ve had the most ridiculously good weather luck in the world. I actually claim that traveling with my grandpa’s ex Prisoner of WWII hat brings me good weather luck, and I’ve had it for over 50 countries now. I’ve also had blue skies in some of the rarest locations at the rarest times. Kilimanjaro’s summit was one of them.
Anyway. My heart went full out to Ms. Kilimanjaro (yes I said Ms. not Mt. ) and I thanked her out loud for the glorious sunset she gave me right then, and also begged her to please let us all summit with good weather. Although I was fearful of the cold (it was about 20 degrees F in this photo), and meant to go down right after this photo, I couldn’t help but to stay as long as she permitted me to (AKA before the next round of clouds rolled in). I shit you not, it was like I was amusing the mountain with my silly girl-ish photoshoot, and she was applauding me by keeping me warm in that moment with the sun. I even had enough time to make a time lapse video of the clouds slowly rolling in…as soon as they did I needed those two jackets, and also had to RUN back to the mess tent! In full-blown triumph of course!
I am forever proud and grateful for the couple of girls near the far end of the mess tent that I kept asking “Is the sky blue now?” who asked as soon as I came running back into the tent, “Did you get the shot??” <3
Hell yes I did.
So anyway…back to dinner…
I definitely was not hungry, did not want to eat, but knew I had to. There was no chance I was going to do anything to risk me not summiting this mountain…first. I know it sounds like I suck at being in a group, but again, you have to understand that my whole life I’ve done everything on my own, have always pushed myself to be the best I can be, and then the more physical reason which is if I’m forced to go anyone else’s speed, it messes up my momentum and focus.
Right, so dinner; We were all fed hearty foods to try to pump as much nourishment and calories in before making the 7 hour summit. AKA nothing I would ever want to eat normally (potatoes, breads, more potatoe-like things that I don’t regularly eat). We then did our final health checks to make sure we were in good enough shape to summit. If the guides thought our oxygen, heart rate, or any problems we were feeling weren’t up to par, we wouldn’t have been allowed to. That being said, it was an on-going laugh during all health checks because we all wanted to get good scores — so we’d warm our fingers, not look at the device that takes oxygen and heart rate, and say we were feeling perfect so we could pass the health checks. (Everyone really did say if something was wrong though…don’t hide that).
After lunch we did our best to nap, but it was slightly hard with the bright sun or sudden storm. We were woken up for dinner which was earlier than usual, and obviously very cold. It’s hard to boil water at high altitude so we didn’t have tea/coffee like usual, and tried really hard to eat all the food. The waiter-porters (seriously bless all of them) did their best to shovel extra food on our plates, and we did our bests to eat as much as possible.
As a (terrible yet moral-based) vegetarian, I honestly have never eaten so many veggies before in my life. I also had never become so fit, healthy, and in shape before!
Anyway…We had one final briefing, where we were instructed to put on literally (I really love being able to accurately use to word ‘literally’) every layer of clothing we had besides the outer layer, and go nap and be ready to wake up at 11pm. By the way, everyone summits at this time. It’s way harder to summit in the day light because the sun is so brutal. I was also told it also helps to not be able to see how high you have to climb. This proved true since I have hardly any photos of the climb in the dark…and since I was too cold to take a camera out, and also because looking behind me made me slightly nauseous.
It was hard to fall asleep…but I managed a couple of hours….
Day 6: SUMMIT.
Hike Time: 7-8 hours ascent / 5-8 hours descent
Distance: 5 km ascent / 11 km descent
Elevation: 4,600 – 5,895 – 3,900 m
Difficulty: Hard AF
Hole. Eeey. Shit. The moment had FINALLY come. I was of course already dressed since I slept in all of my clothes, so just had a few things left to do. Namely, adjust my hand warmers in my boots, pockets, bra, and gloves, and turn on my self-heating jacket. Yes, I had a self heating jacket.
My gaiters ended up freezing and I had to ask the guides and porters for help getting them on. I almost had an anxiety attack because the lead guide Geoffrey asked who was going to be first in line while they were fixing my leg things (what I referred to as my gaiters). I almost fell over and literally looked like I was about to cry, but I made it first in line. Pretty sure I even did a pouty face and arm-reaching action towards the guide because I couldn’t use my words at that exact moment.
By the way, in addition to my gaiters being frozen, my cheap headlight was also broken, and I only figured out how to rig-fix it a few minutes before leaving. I had lost some screw that held it to the headband, and had to borrow hair ties from two other girls to tie it back on. My tentmate Susan also wasn’t convinced the batteries would last and gave me her extras (I LOVE HUMANS LIKE THIS).
We set off at exactly midnight, and I could only see one other group ahead of us. The trick to stay at the higher altitude camp actually did work, and we started the ascent up the mountain while everyone else was starting to ascent to our basecamp.
I knew it was cold, but I couldn’t really feel it since I was wearing ALL of my clothes, plus a heated jacket, plus hand warmers all over my body (which another girl named Tiffany had given me). The only parts of me that got cold were my fingers and my nose/lips, because it was impossible to wear the balaclava (face mask) since it made it too hard to breathe. The only way to make my fingers warm was to keep walking and breathing, since the only way to warm them was through blood circulation (even with the hand warmers in my gloves). Since I knew this already, I did my best to keep wiggling my fingers in the gloves in hopes they’d defrost.
I kept my head down and focused on Geoffrey’s steps in front of me. I tried looking up at the stars a few times but it made me slightly nauseous so I stuck to Geoffrey’s shoes…except when he would slip and claim he was “dancing”.
At one point I stopped and looked behind me and it looked like a beautiful glittering snake of fairy lights down the mountain. Although freezing, I still took my glove off to take a video of it with my phone because it was so spectacular and inspiring. Looking at the video (and screenshot) now, it’s no where near as glorious as it was (WOMP), but I was too cold to actually record it with my GoPro…
All of these people going against their doubts and the wrath of nature to climb this giant mountain in Africa. We all knew it was hard, but we all still kept climbing higher and higher towards the stars. It was beautiful, but we were definitely all wishing the sun would finally rise, since that meant it would be drastically warmer and also that we were about to summit.
The guides told us ahead of time not to ask how much longer (lol), and that we’d know we were almost there when the sun was rising. I was also very happy that instead of the phrase everyone told me to remember (SO many messages saying “Remember, Pole Pole!”) was not said. Instead the guides kept saying “Twende twende” which meant “Let’s Go.” Hell yeah. If we stopped for too long, we would freeze, so our breaks were limited to just a few minutes.
Since I was first in line, and always ready, Geoffrey would find me on my rock during the breaks, take “his day pack” (my hot pink backpack), and tell me to start going while he rallied up the rest of the group. We were constantly reminded to take sips of water (“Sippy Sippy!”) but not too much at a time. We also knew well-before the hike that the chance of the water freezing in the tube was likely, so they told us how to blow the water and air back into the bladder so it wouldn’t freeze and block the tube.
There were about four times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to steady my breath and breathe, and twice when I thought my body was considering throwing up. Both times I just focused on the steps in front of me, kept counting steadily, and took deep breaths, and I was fine.
Then came what was said to be the hardest hour — summiting the first peak; Stella Point. It’s really steep, and of course the snow made it harder and more slippery. When we finally got to the top, I was too exhausted and cold to even take a photo of the sign! The guides didn’t want us to stop and get cold, so we took a sip of water, and kept going to the final leg of the summit.
This last leg of about 45 minutes made me want to cry (in a good way). I felt like a soldier marching to victory and felt like the mountain and universe was completely on my side. The air was icy yet calm, and the sun was starting to peak above the clouds behind me, turning the whole sky pink and blue. When it hit the snow, it literally made it sparkle, and made the clouds surrounding us glow with a warm gold.
I could see the summit sign and a wave of adrenaline rushed over me. I threw my back pack down on the ground and ran over to take a photo. Nicole was right behind me and helped with the photo assist before everyone else crowded the sign. Most people took the photo and immediately went back down, but I had lots of things I wanted to do.
I pummeled back over to where I threw my backpack, and with numb hands tore it open, yanking everything out to find my 360 camera and also my Cheese-Itz because for some reason I was starving and decided I needed a snack at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
More and more people were getting to the top, taking photos, and going back down, so I tried to walk farther away to make my videos and 360 videos. No one was taking photos of the massive, glorious glacier at the top, so I walked over there, then back to the cliff where the gold clouds were, then back to the sign. I was the only person walking around in circles and I honestly have no clue how I didn’t get sick, get frostbite, or pass out.
At one point Geoffrey had to come track me down and tell me I needed to head back down because I had been up there for too long. Since there’s low oxygen and strong sun, being at the summit for more than 15 minutes can make you sick and very sunburnt. So we went over to backpack where I informed him that I couldn’t close it because my hands were numb. He asked why my stuff was everywhere and I tried to explain it was because I was trying to find my 360 cam and Cheese-Its.
I begged him for one last photo in front of the glacier, which he absolutely nailed with my iPhone X, then took my backpack. Apparently he trusted me enough to be able to carry it and go down by myself, but I was quickly stopped by a porter who took it from me to carry.
Even after being up there for longer than I was supposed to, I still felt energetic and glorious. I had a huge smile on my face and was walking proud like it was nothing which I think alarmed a few people I passed on their way up. I even made it a point to cheer them on and tell them they were almost there, then stopped when I realized that probably wasn’t helping.
*Note: I don’t have many photos of this portion because I was NOT in any mood to take out my GoPro or iPhone! I have some video footage though which will be in my overall video from Kilimanjaro!
Going up seemed like a vacation compared to going down the mountain. It seemed like the 7 hours it took to ascent was only 3 hours, and the 3 hours it took to descent was 7 hours. It was so hard to go down that steep tip of the mountain that the majority of us kept sliding down the snow on our butts. It was literally like playing chutes and ladders, and you did NOT want the ladder option.
Eventually I took so many snow slides that I lost my porter (nicknamed Diesel) and had to tag on to some of the girls who were already almost down (this shows how long I was at the top since I was first to summit and other girls were already way farther down in front of me). This also meant I didn’t have my sunscreen, water, or snacks.
At one point I sat down next to another girl (Anica, who brought me Cheese-Itz from the U.S.), and I was thirsty, so I made a snowball and started eating it. One of the guides saw me doing this, smacked it out of my hand, yanked her water bottle out of her bag, and shoved it into my hands saying, “No! You share!” I thought it was funny, but that also shows how serious they are about taking care of you.
It seemed like the camp was getting farther away most of the time, but we finally made it and everyone was ecstatic to get to their tents and nap. Of course, I had to stay up and wait for Diesel and the girl he was assigned to, but eventually I got to lay down. It kind of felt like I was on a tent at a beach where I was trying to sleep but it was just way too sunny and it was making my eyes and head hurt.
I didn’t get to nap for long anyway though, because my tent-mate woke me up because she was sick and needed one of the guides. The altitude had made her vomit, which again, was totally normal. When I went out of the tent to find a guide, it felt like an apocalypse had happened…everything was quiet, no one was answering me when I was yelling names of guides, until finally I said “My roommate is really sick!” Then they all popped out.
Turns out it was the obvious – altitude sickness, but there was nothing really she could do about it but wait to descent. The guide said not to take more Diamox (but I revealed to her that I had taken extra before we started the descent). He also said our time was up for naps and that we needed to start packing and getting ready to head down.
First we had to have lunch, which we were warned was going to be the worst lunch of the trip. It was because we were all tired and the altitude was testing us hard core at the higher basecamp. Some girls were worried they’d need to be helped down, and some of us were begging to start right away to get rid of the altitude headaches.
Don’t let this scare you by the way…everyone gets at least one headache, but it goes away as soon as you descent, which is why we were all so eager to.
Nicole was pretty eager to get down too, so she made the executive decision to create a “Team Fast” for those of us who wanted to get down as quickly as possible, and we went off right away without guides. That hour climb down the switchbacks was icy but we were extremely glad we didn’t have to do it right after summiting like everyone else did (since our camp was already set up above it).
As we were passing through Barafu Camp, a couple of porters from a different company asked us for food. The five of us immediately tore open our backpacks and gave all the snacks we had, realizing this was a prime example of mistreatment of porters that happens with companies that aren’t KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Association Project) certified. That being said, never ever use a company that isn’t certified, because they tend to massively underpay and underfeed these hard working people that carry your stuff up and down the mountain…
After that infuriating hiccup, we continued down the mountain for again what seemed like forever since the descent is so much harder than going up. We were going relatively quickly through rocky terrain, which doesn’t feel great on your toes, knees, and thighs.
Luckily I took any and all advice, including clipping my toenails before descending, and using the hiking poles as much as possible to keep pressure off my knees.
When we finally got to Millenium Camp, it was another glorious moment, and everything there seemed like it was cheering for us. We could see the clear view of Kilimanjaro’s summit in the far distance, which was mind-blowing to think we were at the top of it that morning. Many people went to sleep, but I was trying my hardest to get my summit photo up on Instagram for International Women’s Day. I looked for guides or porters using a phone, found a spot on a random rock, and was able to get the photo up before heading off to nap.
Day 7: Getting Down.
Hike Time: 4-5 hours
Distance: 13 km
Elevation: 3,800 – 1,800 m
After eating breakfast we had a special ceremony for the porters and guides, and individually acknowledged, thanked, shook hands, and gave them their tips (which were included with Whoa’s package). It felt great to see them so happy about the tips, and I really appreciated that Whoa ensured they all got paid fairly and promptly.
We had one singing and dance circle before heading off on the final descent, which literally felt like it would never end.
In case I haven’t already said it enough times…going down is WAY harder than going up. Where going up is gradual and steady, going down is like a catastrophe of sliding, over-stepping, and gravity pulling too much pressure on your legs.
When we got to an area with a rocky surface (remember I’m like a mountain goat and really good at climbing rocks) I scaled it so fast that I ended up way ahead of the group of fast-pacers. I was also using my poles to swing myself down the dirt/mud/rock steps, which put me at the pace of the porters (they were very surprised to see this).
I decided to stop and wait for the rest of the group, and was told that they thought I got lost in the jungle because of how far ahead I got. Oh, it was also raining, and I was the only one who refused to put the poncho on because I was insistent that I needed a shower anyway.
We finally got to the final hour of the hike, and I told Nicole I had to jog down the steep declines to avoid them hurting my legs. She agreed and most of us jogged half of the way back! This REALLY surprised the porters, since most people are exhausted after summiting, and there we were RUNNING down the damn mountain!
Finally, we reached the exit gates, and could not be more relieved to sit in the plastic chairs under a shaded tent area, and drink a cold Kilimanjaro beer. It literally felt like we had been sheltered from the world for a month and were finally stepping back into the day light because of the extreme difference in cleanliness and energy that we had compared to the people already at the bottom.
The one woman out of the 22 of us who had to turn back even came to show her support for us which was very sweet. The only thing was that she was perfectly manicured and wearing really cute clean clothes, which I think made us all feel a tiny bit meh. Especially during the last dance circle when she was full of energy and said, “Come on girls, dance!”
I tried really hard to not say anything but I couldn’t help but huff, “You didn’t just climb a mountain!”
Our legs and feet were throbbing, most of us had some sort of sun or wind burn on our face, and we smelled like we had been living outside for a week (because we actually had been). But we had successfully summited Mount Kilimanjaro, and nothing else could compare to that feeling. And for that feeling, we all still danced…even if it looked more like a zombie boogie.
While we waited for the rest of the group to come down, we enjoyed our beers, ate the rest of our snacks, and some of us paid local guys $2 to clean our muddy hiking boots. We had two more singing and dancing circles with our porters and guides (big shout out to Pascual for singing the whole time, even at the summit!), then finally climbed on the buses to leave!
We stopped in the cute little village at the base of the mountain, and had a glorious lunch of pizza and beer. Then we went back to Kilimanjaro Wonders Hotel to take the first shower in a week, which was equally as glorious (although cold).
We had one final group dinner, where we were also given our official “I climbed Mt.Kilimanjaro” awards, and then we all went straight to bed. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for a hotel bed in my entire life!
We didn’t take a full day to recover the next day as you may imagine. Instead we went to check out another volunteer opportunity, which was visiting an organization called Shirikisha which aids local deaf/disadvantaged women and a few men.
The organization runs off some donations, but what’s most impressive is that it’s self-sustaining. The women there learn how to make items out of colorful fabrics (purses, duffels, headbands, aprons, table cloths, etc.), some cook, others clean, and all of the profits they get from the sales, restaurant, and homestay directly benefit them.
We ate a delicious lunch there which I’d honestly highly recommend doing if you’re in Moshi! And definitely buy some of the unique bags which you won’t find anywhere else in the world, and which go to a great cause!
Aches, Pains, and Rest?
Who has time to rest after climbing one of the biggest mountains in the world? Not this work-a-holic. As soon as I got back to the hotel, said my goodbyes to those going either on safari or the airport, I immediately got out my laptop and went back to work.
Just to throw it out there, it usually takes 1-2 weeks or more to write one blog post. It’s been exactly two weeks since I hiked Kilimanjaro and I’ve written five, plus have traveled to three more countries, all while simultaneously running the business admin backend, taking photos, and posting daily on Instagram.
Anyway…My thighs hurt for exactly three days after the trek, and I knew it was just from going downhill since they didn’t hurt much during the first part of my trek. My nose peeled for two days, and the wind blister I had on my lip came off in one.
Somehow, I did not break (or even chip) a single nail, which means my genius idea to get two extra layers of gel nail polish was a major win. At least for me.
Another major win for me was that pretty much all of my muscles were as defined as they were when I was in highschool and played soccer every day. I haven’t had a six pack in years, and just from doing the 7 day Kilimanjaro trek, I looked like I work out every day of my life (hence why I kept emphasizing in the beginning that I dont’). It actually has motivated me to start doing more multi-day hikes…just so I can stay in that shape!
I secretly had hoped this would be one of the results of my hike though, which is why I had planned my “resting destination” to be Dubai and Sydney!
Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has made me feel even more strong and capable than I did before, and I can’t wait to use this experience to help other women feel the same!
If you’re thinking about doing Mt. Kilimanjaro, definitely go with Whoa Travel! You can even get $100 off your trek using the code ‘MyLifesATravelMovie’ at check out!
Last but not least, I know this post is long AF, but if you enjoyed my story, found it helpful, or just want to help me continue being able to post free content and information for anyone to use, please share this on social media!