On 1 August 2015, my friends and I landed in Kilimanjaro Airport. Our aim: To reach the summit of Kilimanjaro on 9 Aug 15 which would also mark Singapore’s 50th year of independence. This post traces our 8 day journey along the Northern Circuit and sets out what you can expect to experience en route.
It is my hope that this post will be beneficial to all would-be adventurers intent on tackling this mountain.
Where is Kilimanjaro?
Kilimanjaro borders Tanzania and Kenya. In order to hike Kilimanjaro, you can stay in one of two cities, Moshi or Arusha. We chose Moshi as the prices there were slightly cheaper as it was a smaller city.
Team Kilimanjaro Assemble
Together with 2 fellow adventurers, Adelene and Victor, we arrived slightly earlier to acclimatize to the higher altitude , the time zone and the food. Visiting a nearby city, Marangu, which has a route leading up Kilimanjaro, afforded us the opportunity to take in the scenery whilst training as well.
Tembea pole pole
After bumming around for a 2 days, it was finally the day of the trek. We bundled into the van together with a whole platoon of porters and our guides, meeting on the way light traffic by way of animals and then we were there – Lemosho Gate – and we started walking slowly.
“Tembea pole pole”, our guides said. Walk slowly slowly. And so, slowly we made our way to our first camp site, Mti Mkubwa ( Big Tree ) Camp.
Fun fact: Big Tree camp was a misnomer because the Big Tree for which it was named is no longer there.
We reached the camp with barely anything in our backpacks and already our porters were setting up our tents and preparing food. There was even a nice hot red basin of water to wash up in. We would look forward to that basin of hot water in the days to come. At night, we did what we couldn’t do in light polluted cities – we looked to the stars.
Introducing our guides
Our guides for the adventure are Jackson (left) and Godliste (right). We have a porter also named Godliste in our team of porters who waited upon us hand and foot, filling up our thermal flasks with hot water, bringing us food and clearing the dishes. Thank goodness for our team of guides and porters. Without them, I have no doubt that our team couldn’t have made it up.
Each day we would wake up in the morning still feeling last night’s chill in our bones , brush our teeth, eat our breakfast , bundle our bags and off we’ll go into the great unknown. When you reach the next camp, you’ll be taking out your stuff and putting them back in the next day. If possible opt for duffel bags – things would be easier to find and put away.For Day 2, we were climbing to Shira One camp.
Shira one tukafika
Along the way into Shira One (actually this was done throughout the trek), we were introduced to plants and the surrounds of Kilimanjaro. Pictured below, the needle like plant is the national flower of Africa, Protea while the plastic-like flowers are called “Everlasting”, which looked like they were made of plastic! Also notice the gradually thinning of vegetation as we progressed higher up the mountain.
Now, you must be wondering about the “Shira” in Shira One. Historically, Kilimanjaro has had three volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. We were aiming to summit Uhuru peak (5895m amsl) which is on Kibo. Along the way, we will see these 3 landmarks. Today, Shira is now reduced to a plateau and a caldera.
P.S. Tukafika means arrive in Swahili. It is also part of the Jambo Song. You can listen to the song later in this post.
When the cold wind blows
It gets really chilly at night and what should greet us the next morning but ice crystals. As the sun slowly rose, the ground gained heat little by little. We packed our gear and we were off to our next destination – yup, you guessed it – Shira Two camp.
Food on the mountain
Just so that you can see what we were eating the trip, I’ve consolidated some “highlights”. These were , by and large, representative of the food that we ate throughout the trek. Well… that and copious amounts of Kilimanjaro tea and Milo (not pictured).
Sometimes, there is leftover bread from breakfast and our cook would fry this and become our lunch. Sometimes, we reached camp slightly after lunchtime and we would be served a hot lunch there. Sometimes though we would be bringing a picnic bag of food out.
But nothing can trump the Bak Chor Mee, Char Kway Teow and Rojak back here in Singapore. Just sayin’.
Hike high, sleep low
As we found ourselves at Shira Two campsite earlier than normal , we had a short rest and proceeded to have an easy hike to another camp perhaps 20 minutes from our camp. This was typically what we did in order to acclimatize ourselves to higher altitudes. The old trekking adage goes “hike high, sleep low”.
The camp we visited had a large circle with what seems like a letter “H” on it. That’s the helicopter landing pad for emergencies. Fortunately, there were no emergencies that day.
Near the camp we visited were some caves and early explorers made do without tents and slept and cooked in the caves. However, this is no longer permitted. After exploring the area for some time, we made our way back for dinner.
Happily satisfied with our dinner feast, one great way to pass the time was to learn their language and their songs. In this instance our guides were teaching us the Jambo Song.
Chorus of the Jambo SongJambo, Jambo Bwana. Hello, Hello Sir.
Habari Gani? Mzuri Sana. How are you? Very fine
Wageini, mwakaribishwa. Guests, you are welcome!
Kilimanjaro? Hakuna Matata! Kilimanjaro? No Worries!
This together with other songs welcomed trekkers when they reached camp. These were usually sang in a group with lots of clapping and catcalls. The songs were also highly infectious.
Embedded below is the actual audio of the warm reception we had after our summit attempt. Greeted by this upon returning to camp after trekking for some 12 hours, I, for one, was quite moved.
You may recognize some of these names being sung in the second song , Jambo Song from the route we took below.
The Kilimanjaro Northern Circuit
Mti Mkubwa – Shira 1 – Shira 2 – Moir Hut – Pofu – School Hut – Gilman’s point – Stella point – Uhuru Peak – Mweka Camp – Mweka Gate
Above the clouds
After hiking for about 5 days , we got from Lemosho Gate to Mti Mkubwa, to Shira One, to Shira Two, to Moir Hut and finally we were on our way to Pofu camp. In Swahili, Pofu means Buffalo. It was so named because buffaloes from the Kenyan side would wander up Kilimanjaro to this camp. Earlier in the trip, we made an unscheduled stop in Kenya for a day due to a plane delay but that is another story for another time.
Did you know? Simba means lion in Swahili and Rafiki means friend. Also, the mountain you see at the start of “The Lion King”? That’s Kilimanjaro
On our way there, there was an endless sea of clouds amidst a mostly barren landscape.It was surreal. But it was also challenging because when nature called erm… let’s just say the larger rocks were our best friends.
A bit about toilets
And on that note… may I introduce the toilet facilities in the different camps. In the world of hiking, having a permanent toilet setup is the ultimate luxury. But having your own portable toilet which is in the care of a specific porter just takes it to almost “presidential suite” status. The portable toiler would save us from freezing our fingers off throughout the climb as some of the permanent toilets were quite far from our tents.
To operate the portable toilet, there is a pump to mechanically pump water when you are done and there is tray to release any offending material into a separate container. If I have just one minor complaint, someone please ensure that the toilet roll is well-stocked.
Ups and downs
It may seem that the journey is all upward going, but this is not the case. Sometimes we go downwards as well. This can be quite demoralizing because you know you eventually will be making up the difference some day.
SG50 On Kilimanjaro
The day was 8 Aug 2015.This was our second last day before the summit push. Our plan to reach the summit on 9 Aug 2015 to celebrate Singapore’s 50 birthday drew ever nearer and what better way to commemorate the event than to make a rock “sculpture”.
This was what our guide told us when we asked if the summit push will be tough.For the duration of the trek so far, it hadn’t been terribly physically demanding and my teammates and I were honestly quite surprised this was the case.
We knew that the Northern Circuit was circuitous (pardon the pun) and chose it because it not only afforded us ample opportunity to acclimatize to the altitude but allowed us to slowly savor our time on the mountain. Despite this, I began to show some mild symptoms of altitude sickness on the third and fourth day in the form of a headache. This afflicted my friends as well but it wasn’t particularly debilitating. We managed to do this with a lot of water.
In fact, our safety was on our guides’ minds as well. They took our resting heart rates after breakfast and dinner and recorded it in a notebook before we set off to ensure that we were well enough to trek. And so when the night of the summit push came, it was business as normal. We got our heart rates taken, asked our questions, got our shut eye and then- It was time.
2 steps up
We pushed off a little after 12 am. Little did we know that we would be climbing up loose rocks for the next 4-5 hours without any end in sight. We took 2 steps up only to come down 1. Out came our trekking poles. Any breaks we did have were few, short and far between. And for good reason, it was so cold the water in the tubes of our drinking bags froze.Finally, after what seemed like an endless series of hairpin bends we reached Gilman’s Point.
Having reached a checkpoint without seeing one for the past hours flooded my team mates and I with relief. To me, it was also humbling knowing the vastness and the awesome size of this mountain.
And yet the journey was not over yet. We had to cross another checkpoint before we could finally set our sights on our goal – Uruhu Peak. Freedom Peak.
After a half hour or so we reached Stella Point and abit later we saw it – Uruhu Peak. My memory at this point of time became a little hazy but my body was just concerned with putting one foot ahead of the other and so I plowed on.
There was a slight slope and our goal lay perhaps less than 400m ahead but in my mind, every step I took was excruciating. I was carrying next to nothing at this point after having depleted my water in my drinking bag.
The sun’s rays warmed us and as it rose, the golden yolk gradually turned the sky from deep black to a faint blue. It was an inexplicable moment. It was a simple sunrise but on this day, I also associated it with how far Singapore had come, the hard work put in by our forefathers and what we as Singaporeans can do to put our best foot forward in the next 50 years.
I reached into my daypack to bring out our Singapore flag and smiled.
Thousands of miles away, across the Indian ocean, the Singapore I know is just 2 hours into 9 Aug 15, possibilities aloft.
Happy birthday Singapore. This one’s for you.
I wish I could say “thus ends our journey”, but it is not so. There was still the journey down to consider. And for me there was something more left for me to do.
Together with my fellow adventurers we trained for this climb in about 6 months. Then, we were still unsure of what equipment we had to bring and what training we had to do but in the light of having done it, are now better informed.
To help others out, I intend to come up with a resource to help you train to trek in Singapore. The purpose of the resource is to help would-be adventurers tackle training for less technical mountains like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Rinjani. It will take you through what you will need, training you can do here in Singapore and tips and tricks in planning for your hike. If I can help one person enhance his enjoyment of the hike, writing this resource would have been worth my time.
To all would-be hikers, I hope this resource will aid in you in your journey and that your time spent in reading it would be more than repaid in your enjoyment of your trip. It is currently in development but I hope to release it in the near future.
I wish you and your friends awesome adventures.