The Art of Travelling Solo: Kilimanjaro Study Abroad Experience
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
The Journey or the Destination?
When the year turned into 2018, Kilimanjaro was the first challenge I set up. Once I did, my year and my life started to be shaped around it and more positive thinking and action started to follow. Practice hikes, no drinking, better nutrition, intermittent fasting, and more reading all became natural. I was going to need those to face this Mountain.
When you align your energy with your desires,
everything flows positively.
Here is a recollection of my adventure:
Mt. Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain, the world tallest free standing mountain, and a inactive volcano found within Tanzania's Kilimanjaro National Park.
There are several routes you can take and a lot of groups and tour companies have guides who will lead you throughout the entire journey. I chose the Machame route which takes approximately 6-7 days and I trekked from 26th May - 2nd June. This route is most popular with hikers as the topography allows individuals to climb high and sleep low, get used to altitude and at this time of year it was low season for the hike which was attractive for me. I chose to do my trek with a company called G Adventures, who guide about 1500 hikers through to Kilimanjaro a year. Considering an average of 5000 people climb each year, G Adventures is well seasoned in the Mountain logistics and personnel.
Throughout the hike, oxygenation and exertion were a few factors that the group had to overcome. My experience in Switzerland earlier in the month where I participated and practiced the Wim Hof method over a weekend was essential in my hike. The summit contains only half the amount of oxygen that we are used to breathing in, at sea level. Everyone handles the altitude differently. Altitude meds (I declined to use) are a resource for this type of hikes but so are the guides from G Adventures who help travelers who may experience shallow breathing or light headedness. In order to test yourself you also got to push against the mountain and assess your own strength. Walking behind a guide the whole trek will get you there but it will not exert you enough to find out what you are made off and test your strength, which was one of my most desired objectives.
The conditions are also something to take into account before you start your climb. Around 55% of the earth's protected atmosphere is below an altitude of 5000m, this means that the UV from the sun is much more severe the higher you climb. If you aren't prepared and not protected, you can incur severe sun burn, which occur at different points in our trek. The variety of ecosystems is also something to take into account as the weather is known to change daily and in many cases hourly. Over the 7 days we trekked from humid rainforest at the base to alpine desert conditions at the top. During the day it was hot and during the night about 8 pm there was frost over our tents.
For those of you who may be interested in climbing Mt Kilimanjaro, I believe it is necessary to do some training beforehand, especially if you have never trekked before. A stair-climber or treadmill (on a auto hill program) is a great way to get your legs used to an uphill climb and changing terrain. It is best to start this at least 4 to 6 months prior to your departure. Ignore those youtube videos and blogs that tell you the adventure is just a walk in the park. You can ignore reality but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality!
During the trek I was inclined to walk ahead as my stride was much longer than the rest of my group, walking in a single file line was not going to work for me. Although in the cases I did, I placed myself in the back to be able to tempo my rhythm, trekking in a tight line gives me a sort of anxiety that i could only liberate by trekking ahead solo with a guide at times.
On average about 5000 people climb Mt Kilimanjaro which means that although many say they will some day, the numbers don't lie, +99,5% of the world will never try. Many people don't have the belief that these things can be done or they fear failure (which always comes hand in hand with conquering), others exercise procrastination on a daily basis, and are then surprised how this daily exercise then leads to more procrastination. It was an amazing experience I got to share with a group of strangers I can now call Friends! I booked myself an experience that opened me up to experience 11 other people.
FIRST 4 days - Regular hike, Wake up & eat breakfast, hike for 7-10 hours to next camp. Elevations from 1000mts to 3800mts. Lava Tower around 4700mts for lunch then descent for camp.
Environment: Different terrains (rainforest to alpine dessert). Loosing appetite along the way is common but you should keep intaking calories. Also you will be encouraged to drink high amount of water, so i brought by own bring vitamin and mineral replenishing packs or pills. Miso Soup packets were a great tool considering they are high in sodium to replenish salts lost in the long walks. Picking your meals is also important, i was eating when others didn't feel like and i was skipping meals when other were eating right before trekking for a few hours. The mountain is not a place where you would like to feel heavy. Also you will be sending "messages" along the way.
Summit Day - 6am wake up, hike for 7 hours, get to base camp at around 4800mts and nap for 3-5 hours. 11pm wake up, submitting starts at midnight until sunlight, after about 6 to 7 hours until you start to see the sun coming up. This is the first time you trek at night and it is a challenge on itself. You will soon and quickly go from frost conditions to summer so evaluating your layers will be important since you should only take whats necessary on the submit trek.
The submit from base camp is a uphill with no flat terrain until you reach Stella Point which is the rim of the volcano 7hrs later. Your job still not over here. Although you can see the peak and the Uhuru Peak sign, you still got to walk further now above 5800mts. The trek from Stella Point to Uhuru is about 45 more minutes after taking a short break to breath and carb up with a boxed juice (the only thing I brought up) at Stella Point.
I reached Stella point behind a group on my tour and going solo (with guide), since following the group on a single file line gives me extra anxiety. I passed and got passed many time over the 7 hours climb. However, after resting at Stella point i was able to be the first in my group to get up and trek and reach Uhuru Peak.
Once you Reach Uhuru Peak, you take pics and appreciate the site for about 10 to 15 minutes, as longer will start the onset of altitude sickness. I felt very good (besides constants stops for oxygenation and Wim Hof breathings in the 7 hrs of submit) until i was done taking a few pictures. At this point I started to feel a slight headache, tingling arms and fingers, the proper sign that it is time to head back.
Once back at Stella point, you are faced, in my opinion, with the most dangerous part of the 7 day hike. After 6 months of mental and physical uphill preparation, everything that goes up has to come down!
Looking down from Stella Point, the hike up becomes a very steep hill down. In the first 15 minutes of down trek I slipped and fell 3 times. After hiking for 7 hours, your mind and your body start to play tricks on you. The mountain was covered in section of snow that recently fell in the previous weeks. This is apparently a not so common condition at Kilimanjaro, so I decided to sit down in the snow and give sliding a try. Soon to be followed by other participants in the mountain that day, it is the most dangerous decision you can make. In total that day 9 hikers including guides were injured, that included 2 guides and 2 hikers in our group. My thoughts are with them for a safe recovery.
4 hours later and after providing somewhat of assistance to injured hikers along the way and with a very hot and piercing sun reflecting on the snow, i was 4th to return to base camp around 11am.
Just to nap for a few more hours, and the commotion of the emergency situation in the mountain that day, we had lunch around 3pm and picked up of things to trek down further away from altitude for another 4 hours. As you can tell, the last 2 days are blending into one super long day. I was surprised yet amazed that my body, in special my legs were able to take on the load and the force the mountain threw at me over the 2 submit days.