Mt Kilimanjaro

30 Jan 2000 - by Rebecca Wolf

We're back! After 29 hours of travel, we arrived home late Saturday afternoon. Even without the lengthy trip home, it's great to be back!

Here's an off-the-top-of-my-head report of our trip to Kilimanjaro. For more details (and a chance to see our slides), Steve will have a longer trip report on our web site in a week or two (

We had a wonderful trip, accomplishing something special for each of us, and having the opportunity to see another country so completely different from ours. Steve is very pleased to add another continental high point to his list - Mt. Elbrus (1993, Russia, 18,600'), Aconcagua (1996, Argentina, 22,800'), Denali/McKinley (1997, Alaska, 20,300'), and Kilimanjaro (2000, Tanzania, 19,340'). I'm just amazed I made it up to 15,000 feet!

The hardest part for me was on the day we went from 12,000' to 15,000' - we did it in 2 stages, part before lunch and part after lunch. The first half was alright, although we had a lot of up and down climbing to accomplish. After lunch, we simply went up...and up...and up. The snow started falling mid-afternoon and we completed the climb in the wind, with snow blowing all over us. As Steve put it, I made it through the last hour of the climb on sheer nerves alone.

Having made it up that high, but suffering from a bad headache, no energy and nausea, I decided I'd accomplished quite enough. Steve, however, was feeling quite good, despite a cold, and happily set off for the summit at midnight the next evening. He reached the crater rim in time for sunrise and then continued on to the actual summit. Kilimanjaro, being a volcano, has many "summits" due to all the various ridges along the rim. The highest point, Uhuru, is at 19,340 feet, and commands a spectacular view of the area. Or, at least Steve says so - I'll have to wait and see the photos!

Our assistant guides and porters did a great job escorting all of us up and down the mountain. Porters carried everything on their heads, as did the cooks. This included everyone's duffel bags (weighing up to 30 lbs. each), sleeping and cooking tents, sleeping bags, food, camp stoves, and water. The assistant guides carried much smaller amounts on their heads, and the head guide, who spoke English quite well, carried a large backpack.

Each American was assigned one porter whose was responsible for carrying that American's duffel bag and tent up and down the mountain, and for setting up and dismantling the tent each day. Many of the porters were poorly dressed, wearing thin clothes, often with shoes which didn't fit or had holes in them. Our porters, Gabriel and Samson, both probably in their late teens or early 20s, did an excellent job charging up the mountain ahead of us, always making sure our tent was set up before we arrived. They had both been up Kilimanjaro before and seemed very pleasant, although our conversations were understandably limited due to the language barrier.

Tipping, either monetarily or with clothes, food or other commodities, was a daily event, although the main gift and money exchange occurred once we returned to the hotel. Money, warm clothing and boots appear to be the greatest need, although a Swiss army knife I gave to our guide seemed a big hit. Steve had brought along about 8 t-shirts to give away, which were quickly snapped up and immediately put on. We wish we'd brought far more, as the need is so great for every single person.

The food was quite good, especially given the circumstances. Breakfast was always cereal, bread, fruit, eggs, and sausage or bacon. Lunch was always sandwiches (meat and cheese, which was a bit of a concern since there was no refrigeration at all up on the mountain; we just hoped we'd not get sick), bananas, oranges, hardboiled eggs and a brownie. Dinners were made up of soup, potatoes or rice, meat or chicken, vegetables, and generally some kind of "sauce," which was often more like a stew which we'd put over our meat and potatoes/rice. Sometimes the sauce was spicy, sometimes it had a bit of a curry flavor. Dessert was generally fruit. And with every meal, we were served lots of tea and hot water, into which you could mix coffee, Milo or cocoa.

How the cooks managed to prepare all of this food, on the mountain, with just camp stoves, is beyond me. And, not only were they feeding 30 climbers, they were also cooking for 95 others: porters, a head guide, assistant guides and cooks. Truly an amazing accomplishment!

Coming back down the mountain was as much of an experience as going up. The path down was covered in mud - thick, sticky, wet mud. And, to complicate matters, the mud generally covered tree roots, making it a challenge to stay upright. Most of the climbers were covered in mud by the time they got down to the bottom, whereas the assistant guides were practically as clean as when they'd started out! Steve and I never fell down, although we had our share of near-misses and slips. That first shower back at the hotel felt wonderful!

The safari was a different experience entirely, much more sedentary and relaxing. We drove into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which is a bit southwest of Kilmanjaro, and then into the Serengeti, which is west of Ngorongoro. Both areas are partially on Maasai tribal lands, giving us many opportunities to see Maasai villages and people. We traveled in jeeps over dirt roads, with dust everywhere. We stayed in 3 different lodges, each retaining quite a bit of the British colonialization feeling (i.e., meals were served to each person individually). The food was excellent in all 3 lodges, with Gibbs Farm standing out as superior. Their Tanzanian chef (German-trained) has been there for 17 years and serves 4-star meals that are better than many of the restaurant meals we get out here!

Each day was spent driving around the area, looking for and at wildlife. We saw a large assortment of animals: baboons, giraffes, elephants, hippos, rhinos, gazelles, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, jackals, ostriches, warthogs, wildebeests, hartebeests, flamingoes, vultures, snakes, elans, zebras, crocodiles, and numerous birds. It's quite something to see these animals in their native habitats, freely roaming around and for the most part, ignoring the humans. It must have been an even more amazing place years ago!

During the entire trip, we were especially aware of being in a third world country. Tanzania is an incredibly poor country - evidence of this is seen everywhere you look. Homes are generally constructed out of mud and sticks, mud bricks, or stucco, with or without roofs and/or windows. Most roads are unpaved, including the main streets in the towns we drove through; this includes Arusha, which has at least a million people living in it. Trash is everywhere, with small trash fires burning on the sides of all the roads. Dust covers everything, especially now, as the rains are late and everything is incredibly dry.

Schooling is the exception, not the rule, and costs approximately $100/year for kindergarten through sixth grade; the cost goes up dramatically from there. Since all schooling, except college, is paid for by the parents, very few children go to school. Consequently, the villages and towns are full of children at all times of the day. Uniforms and books are required for those who do go to school, although shoes appear to be optional. Knowing English increases a person's chance of a better job, such as was the case for our guides, whether they work on the mountain, in town, or on the safari. We came away feeling very lucky for all we have been given and have achieved in our lives and very fortunate to be living in the US.

It was a fun experience for the two of us to share in this type of amazing adventure, one I'd probably never have done if not for knowing Steve. And, while I'm not sure we'll go back to Tanzania, or if I'll go back up to 15,000' anytime soon, we're both already thinking of where we'd like to go next!

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