Posted by: Kathy Dragon | February 10, 2008

Kilimanjaro Birthday Trek

Travel Time:
January-February 2008

Peripheral Information:
It was a strange journey to Kilimanjaro as I flew into Nairobi and expected to take the 6 hour bus ride to Moshi. However, the political situation in Kenya was rocky and though it best to get out of dodge without driving through the countryside on a bus. I took the Precision Air flight (rather scary planes) which take about 45 min.

This was the end of one of the fairly good hiking seasons. Weather was humid but once on the mountain it was cool/dry/sunny…much like Colorado. Day off the mountain (Feb 6th) it POURED and quite a bit of new snow on the mountain. Rainy season means SNOW, lots of it, on the mountain as well as muddy trails.

I’d been on the road for about 4 weeks before starting Kilimanjaro….two weeks in Argentina and Chile leading a Dragon’s Path hike with 14 great folks from Breckenridge, then back to the US for 10 hours and connect to Capetown for my International Organization Systems Development program..then a couple of days with my foreign exchange sister in Cape Town.

When I finally arrived in Moshi I was a bit ready for a break…which wasn’t going to happen!

Reviewer Background:

I’ve never been too interested in climbing Kilimanjaro…not too into ascents. I’d rather do point to point, long distance trips with interesting cultural features. However, I was going to Africa and thought I needed to try it. It was sort of a big birthday and needed a physical challenge.


I’d been in Africa (South Africa) for about 10 days before my arrival in Nairobi. All actually went well there but the political situation was very much effecting not only tourists but all associated businesses. Flights were canceled and their was a feeling of anxiety in the air. I ended up spending a night a the small lodging of a great Spurwing Tours and then the following day visiting an orphanage near, the Giraffe Center and then the Norbie Game Park. My flight left relatively on time but the airport, wait and long long day left me exhausted.

The tour didn’t start out well. I obtained my visa at the airport ($100) and need to show my yellow fever proof of vaccination…(which I had decided to get though I was told it was not mandatory) in Denver during my few hours home. Thank God and they would have given me the shot at the airport. After picking up my trekking bag I exited to find no sign with my name (always dreading that) and then the only person there with a “Zara” t-shirt (the company I thought I was traveling with) told me I was not with Zara though he did know Robin, owner of Adventures Within Reach, a friend from Boulder who I booked the tour with. I then learned that Robin wasno longer working with Zara.

Fortunately I guy I met on the plane was going to the Keys Hotel (the name of my I thought) and he offered to let me ride with his transfer taxi the hour to Moshi. All was good!! Until I arrived at the hotel and realized there were two keys hotels and i was at the wrong one (the Keys II was the one I had been dropped at and looked much nicer than the one I ended up at.
Finally got dropped at the Keys…which I must say is quite a depressing set up but don’t have time to go into that other than to say I would not stay there again.

Eco Tours (Phillip-Owner) ended up being at the hotel to meet me and tell my of course someone was at the airport (no, they were not…empty…) and that his company would be running my tour.

On to the Trek: I ended up doing the trek Solo…well, me, three porters, a good, assistant cook, guide and me…7 of us…for 5 nights 6 days. That is a lot of time.

The Rongai route was good. I would definitely recommend it. However it is easy…my days up until the summit were basically 1.5 to 2.5 hours of walking…tried to do extra in the afternoon but nothing like the 6-8 hours I was expecting. I’m a fast walker but really could have trail run the first four days in about 3-4 hours. I know…acclimatize!!

The best was that it was quiet..only 2-4 others at the same camp each night vs 200+ on many of the other routes. The weather was great…sunny, dry, hot during the day (like summer in Colorado mts) then cold at night…generally clear.

So here is the itinerary:
DAY 1: To Simba Camp (First Cave)

1950m to 2880m
6400ft to 9450ft
About 2 hours / 4 miles
Transfer by Land Rover (about ROUGH!!!! 4-5 hours) to the attractive wooden village of Nale Muru. After signing in and preparing the porters, you will begin the hike on a wide path that winds through fields of maize and potatoes before entering pine forest. The track then starts to climb consistently, but gently through attractive forest that shelters a variety of wildlife. The forest begins to thin out and the first camp is at the edge of the moorland zone with extensive views over the Kenyan plains. (2 hours)…there is a lodge near the start …can’t find it but I would rather drive, get there, spend the night, and do the first two days from there in one day….we didn’t start until 3pm or so.

DAY 2: To Second Cave

2880m to 3450m
9450ft to 11,320ft
About 1.5 hours / 4 miles
Temperatures: low 40’s to high 60’s F
The morning walk is a steady ascent up to the Second Cave with superb views of Kibo and the Eastern ice fields on the crater rim.

DAY 3 To Third Cave

3450m to 3870m
11,319ft to 12,700ft
About 2 hours

DAY 4 To Kibo Camp

3870m to 4750m
12,713ft to 15,600ft
About 2.5 hours

Hike to Kibo campsite at the bottom of the Kibo crater wall. The remainder of the day is spent resting in preparation for the final ascent before a very early night!
This is the first place I saw the masses of hikers. I asked to camp away from them and had a quite camp close to the lower rocks. In hindsite it might have been good to actually go up the mountain mid day rather than at night. Weather changes and you don’t get sunrise but if you get cold…well.

Day 5: Asscent: I left camp at 1:00 am and began the long hike slowly in the darkness on a switchback trail through loose volcanic scree to reach the crater rim at Gillman’s Point (5685m,18,650ft).Though I started an hour later than most I still made it to Gillman’s far too early and very cold. Not what I needed to be told to slow down in order to make the summit for sunrise at Uhuru Peak. At that point I could have cared less about the sunrise and just wanted to hit the point and go back down. However, I slowed down, froze further if that is possible, and arrived at the peak at 6:20am. The sunrise is incredible and definitely the highlight of the hike. The glaciers of course make it all worthwhile. Less than two weeks earlier I had been viewing the Patagonian Ice-field Glaciers and now here I was in Africa.

The route back to Gillman’s allows for photo time and ideally to let the sun start to warm you. The descent, about 2 solid hours surfing scree, seemed endless. Back to camp for 45 min then a 6 miles walk to Horombo that seems pleasant at the start and then unending two hour later.

Day 6: one of my favorite walks…through rain forest. A steady descent takes us down through moorland to Mandara Hut (2700m / 8858 ft), the first stopping place at the Marangu route. Great path to the National Park gate at Marangu. At lower elevations, it can be wet and muddy.

A vehicle meets us at Marangu village to drive you back to your hotel in Moshi …POURING RAIN all the way back …about an hour or so drive.

Full day in Moshi which I could definitely do without.

Best Time to Travel:

December, January, July, August, September


Adventures Within Reach (US booking agent/Tour Operator)
Eco-Tours: Moshi based company


Great experience, not sure if I would do it again but glad I did. Only downside other than the hotel really was that I ended up working/consulting for free most of the the trip training the staff and owner of EcoTours on how to run a better trip. I generally don’t mind helping folks out but this is what I do for a living and I was paying for the trip. I was somewhat disappointed that they really didn’t have a lot of experience how to create trips targeting the type of guests (boomer and beyond, North Americans) I take. The guide and cook were more than happy to take all my suggestions and everyone seem thrilled that I was helping them create better trips that they felt could differentiate themselves from the 100’s of tour operators. Yeah, seems like everyone runs pretty much the same or similar operation.

Compared to Peru and Nepal this operator has a lot to learn

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