The mighty Kilimanjaro seen from the township of Moshi never fails to impress.
My team, a group of 24 executives stare in awe as the clouds part to reveal the freshly snow-covered summit dome rise up before them. Turning round to address the group it’s almost comical, as all but one or two were now staring in awe at the beast while inevitably thinking “holy shit, I’ve gotta get to the top of that thing!”
The bus taking us to the gate is the local special with extra loud speakers blaring new-age reggae into the still morning air. We wind our way through colourful local villages and waving kids to the park gate. This is where it starts. Amongst the hustle of porters being piled up with huge loads, rangers checking off your name and guides doing the last minute gear briefs, from here you will commence on a journey which is promising to be an experience of a lifetime.
The mountain is best taken in bite sized chunks: for most the overall picture promised by some of the planet’s longest altitude gains is, for most, too overwhelming to take on board. The guides advise a day-to-day approach. It is almost as if we are hunting the summit and sneaking up on it in a week’s time to finally dash to the top.
For now we are going to start off by climbing into the rainforest which forms a huge skirt around the mountain’s base. Before long the group is absorbed in the huge variety of living forms that are on display. Having taken the first step, all doubts cast earlier are forgotten.
All routes winding their way up the peak traverse first through rainforest and then move into heathland, moorland and finally the high altitude desert. It is as if in a week you experience at close hand the world’s grooviest habitats!
The daily scenery is ever-changing and no photo will ever do justice to the variety of landscapes and breathtaking sunsets that we are treated to each day. Barren moorland from which sprout huge Dalek-like plants, and volcanic rocks contorted into formations that would impress any surrealist, form a landscape where we are both physically challenged and mentally rewarded. And it is all too soon that we reach the high camp from where we will launch our summit attempt.
To put into perspective what we have to achieve on summit night: we will climb to the summit of a near 6,000m peak starting from the height of Mt. Blanc. That’s the entire height of Ben Nevis from sea level in altitude gain and climbing the steepest, roughest and rockiest terrain yet encountered on this trek. And to top it off we will do it in pitch darkness and into thinner and thinner air.
The team gathers for the final brief and nervously try to get their heads down for a few hours rest. The wake-up call will come soon enough.
It’s summit time and the combined lights of the group’s head torches and a sickle moon illuminate the way through the rough terrain encountered to the summit rim. The hours pass and ice builds on our rucksacks as the temperature drops steadily the higher we creep. It is still dark when we reach Stella Point, the summit rim of the volcano and after a quick cup of tea from the Thermoses we continue our ascent to the summit, still about an hour away. Gradually the sun brightens the eastern sky in a spectacular display of colours. For the team this is becoming an experience that is living up to be far beyond anything they could ever imagine. The summit, reached together, is of course the bonus but even though this is my 47th ascent of this proud mountain I still am the one who counts my blessings most of all!
For this ascent I used the following Berghaus equipment: