I began hiking five years ago as a way to de-stress and get through a difficult life experience. I quickly learned that many others shared similar reasons for venturing into the outdoors. Little did I know hiking would become a lifetime passion. Discovering SoCal Hiker and taking on the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge provided amazing opportunities to network and meet up with other like-minded people. I have developed some great friendships through the group and have had the chance to experience adventures I never imagined.
So you complete the Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge one year, then maybe the next year you switch up the trailheads and routes you take to get to the summit. Perhaps, you hit two peaks in one shot for a change. Eventually, this all leads to wanting to get out and experience more. This led me to the adventure of a lifetime, summiting Mount Kilimanjaro.
We chose a six day and five night climb up the Machame Route. As you ascend the mountain you will pass through all five of its climate zones. These zones include Cultivation, Rain Forest, Heather-Moorland, Alpine Desert and the Summit; sometimes called the Arctic Zone. Temperatures on the mountain range from 100 to -20 degrees fahrenheit, depending on the time of year. It certainly wasn’t the hot, dry weather we picture when we think about Africa.
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro via the Machame Route
Trail Map & Elevation Profile
Training for this adventure consisted of weekly hiking and attempting to hike in higher elevations when possible. We are fortunate that the highest peak in the contiguous 50 states is located in California. However, Mount Whitney is not easily accessible since a permit is required to hike most times of the year. Many in our group utilized trails to Mount Baldy, San Jacinto and San Gorgonio in preparation for our Kilimanjaro climb.
We were grateful to find out that our duffle bags would be carried by porters. Additionally, there were porters that carried the food, tents, and other equipment that our team of 24 would need to make the trek. We were responsible for carrying a daypack that weighed about 10 to 15 pounds. Water, snacks, clothing layers and necessary personal items were kept in our personal packs. In the duffle bags was all the other clothes and equipment we were required to bring. Popote provided a list of recommended gear prior to our trek. This was important to making sure we had what was needed and didn’t bring unnecessary items. There is a 20 kilogram restriction (about 40 lbs) for the weight that a porter can carry, so bringing only the essentials is key.
The weather was variable depending on the ecosystem we were hiking through. The first day we hiked through the Cultivation and Rain Forest areas. In the cultivated areas you will find farmland and villages. Avocados, bananas, mangos, and coffee are common commodities grown in the lower mountain areas.
At the Machame Gate, and start of the hike, it was warm and humid. This is where you are most likely to see monkeys and exotic birds. The ground here was wet and muddy due to the humidity. The elevation in this section ranges from about 6,000 to 9,000 feet. The rainforest jungle is beautiful with amazing foliage and trees that nearly envelope the pathway up.
The Heather-Moorland zone is the next ecosystem you pass through. Daytime temperatures were warm with the evenings quite cold. Though there is less emerald green foliage in this area, there are shrubs, grass, and wild flowers that cover the ground. At this elevation we were above the clouds; sometimes unable to see the city below. This ecosystem tops out at about 13,000 feet and leads way into the Alpine Desert.
In the desert you get a glimpse of the volcanic rock of Mount Kilimanjaro. There is little vegetation in this elevation, and you begin to get a good view of the snow covered peak you will soon encounter. It was at this elevation that we began to notice some altitude related side effects. Some felt more difficulty in breathing as we pushed along. For others it was a mild to severe headache. Our team did a good job at having us hike into higher elevations, and then drop down to lower camp sites at night in order to acclimate. By morning, everyone felt better and was ready to continue on.
The final push to the summit occurs in the Arctic Zone. The elevation here takes you from about 16,000 feet to Uhuru Peak at 19,341 feet. The start of the climb from base camp occurs at midnight, when the evening dew and snow has frozen overnight. As you ascend higher you see amazing glaciers. The climb is quite steep, but with micro spikes you can get good traction over the iced covered scree. You come up on the rim of the volcano and are now at Stella Point. From here you can see the peak. The trail levels out a bit and your excitement builds as you see the summit sign within reach. As tired as I was, my pace picked up and energy level increased in the final stretch.
We made it to the top! All six of our crew, with the help of the Popote team, reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro that day. We summited individually, within minutes of each other, as everyone required their own pace. Some battled the cold, with winds in excess of about 20mph. Others worked to overcome fatigue, as we got little sleep before the climb. Whatever it was we each dealt with, we did it. All of our hard work and training paid off. We were grateful for the team that took such good care of us and were thrilled for each other’s success. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro certainly wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely worth it.
If you’re thinking you’d like to partake in an adventure that takes you across the country or even across the world, I say do it. You will never know the things you will see, the experiences you will feel, or the accomplishments you can reach if you don’t get out there.
Happy trekking to you all, wherever your next adventure may take you.
Originally hiked August 3-8, 2018 with fellow Six-Pack of Peaks ambassadors Tony and Jason, as well as Monica, Ana and Fabienne.