It rules over the sky – Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, distinguished by its three distinctive volcanic cones. First conquered in 1889 by Hans Meyer and Ludwig Purtscheller, it has called adventurers to its base ever since. And that’s just where G Adventures traveller and soon-to-be-newlywed Sarah Manion found herself last spring, standing on the precipice of a grand adventure. This is her story of ascending to the fabled “roof of Africa.”
What we were about to do didn’t sink in until we were on the plane from Amsterdam to Arusha. I looked out the window over the clouds and repeated the name in my head: Kilimanjaro.
We’d never even come close to doing anything like this. I’d been through Europe; my fiancé, JP, had ridden bikes through central America; and together, we’d been to Southeast Asia and a handful of beaches. But this was on a different level. We’d yet to say it out loud, but it wasn’t hard to see the correlation between this daunting adventure to the roof of Africa and the fact we were getting married in about six weeks.
Holy blatant metaphor.
We met our group and Kenny, our Chief Experience Officer (CEO), in the quaint town of Moshi. What had just begun to seem real on the plane was now a physical tightening in my stomach, brought on by our first glimpse of the mountain; so high and wide, it was its own landscape – its own planet.
We’d opted to trek the Marangu Route – at five days, the shortest of the options available. Our journey took us across fields and other areas Kenny called “moorlands.” We hiked over rocky passes and even through a rainforest, almost always uphill.
Truth be told, I hadn’t expected to encounter a rainforest on Kilimanjaro, but it was probably the most pleasant introduction to the mountain and its environment possible. A light rain had started to fall a few minutes before we entered the canopy, and for the next five hours, our group walked and talked and got to know each other, sheltered under a gorgeous leafy green roof as the storm rolled past overhead.
On our route, Kilimanjaro sort of pounces upon you. Past the rainforest, we hiked around a bend and suddenly boom: there she was, lit up by sunbeams peeking through the clouds. That first glimpse is burned into my mind like a mental postcard. You look at it, off in the distance, and the first thing you think is, "I’m going to climb that.” The second thing you think is, “Holy moly. How am I even going to get there?”
The first night was magical, but it had nothing to do with the mountain. We set up our camp in the dark (the crew provided headlamps) and then disappeared. A few minutes later, they came back bearing our night’s meal – delicious, warm, and satisfying after a long day on foot. And plentiful; the food just kept coming, leaving us wondering how on earth they managed to carry it all up here.
On a trek like this, your experience is only as good as the people who help you get there. In our case, we were blessed with a team of charming, knowledgeable CEOs and porters who saw it as their duty to get us to the top in the best spirits possible. They set a pace for us that was relaxed and comfortable, ensuring that the group stayed together and nobody fell behind. This had as much to do with safety as it did with building camaraderie; the slow pace helped us acclimate to our surroundings and pass the time with conversation and jokes. What’s the point of doing something like this if you’re not having a good time?
The challenge for me wasn’t in the terrain or the altitude, but in the unknown of what lay ahead. Nothing was consistent. The sun shone for a while, and then it got cloudy. Then it rained. Then it was foggy. The temperature. The terrain. Hungry some moments and anxious others. After a while, though, you get used to it and accept it as part of the experience. If climbing one of the world’s Seven Summits were easy, it wouldn’t be an accomplishment, right?
JP and I almost always walked together, but I learned that when you’re doing something as challenging as this, there are times when you’re just alone with your thoughts. Kenny was so caring, visiting each of us in the group periodically to gauge how we were feeling and encouraging us to continue. Our porters were inspiring too, carrying everything the group needed in a way that seemed almost effortless.
How do you describe the moment when you’re watching the sunrise from the highest point on a continent? You just can’t. You can look at pictures and read books, but nothing – nothing – can prepare you for what it’s really like to stand there and gaze down at how far you’ve come.
G Adventures runs a number of departures to Kilimajaro encompassing a wide range of departure dates. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.