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New Goals & Kilimanjaro Retrospective: Machame

About 8 years ago today, I decided I would climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, as a part of a fundraiser with a group of a dozen other Montrealers. I always enjoyed hiking, but had reached a point where I was in the worst shape of my life. The decision put me in motion. I had less than 6 months to get my act together before the climb. So I hit the gym several times a week, lost 30 or so pounds, and set my mind to achieve something great. And I did!

The experience taught me that anything was possible, if you want it badly enough. However, today, I find I’m back to where I started… Shiftless, no goals in sight, I’ve gained back twice the weight I lost and find that nothing really motivates me. I need to set myself a new challenge and hold myself accountable. Until then… I’ll just share a few experiences from Kili!

Mount Kilimanjaro

In the local dialect Lilma-Ngiaro means “Journey which has no ending.”  Kilimanjaro is actually an ancient volcano. At 19,340 feet high, it is the highest mountain in Africa and the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. The route to the summit gains 4,400 meters (13,000 feet) in altitude, starting in rain forest, then traversing moorland, alpine desert, and scree slopes, before reaching the glaciers of the snow-capped summit.

The route of our trek involved almost 100 km of hiking over 7 days/6 nights. We followed the Machame Route is also known as the Whisky Route. It is so named as a comparison to the Marungu, or Coca-Cola Route. Marangu is a hut-to-hut trek that is shorter than Machame – they sell Coke at the huts, hence the name. Since Machame is more difficult, it gained the name “Whisky Route.” It is also supposedly one of the most beautiful routes on the mountain.

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Day 1 of the climb:
Machame village (1,490 m/4,890 ft) to Machame camp (2,980 m/9,775 ft); 18 km/11 mi

After weighing and loading up all our gear into the minivans, we made it to the park gate and set out around noon. The path climbed gradually but steadily, but the footing was great. The first few miles followed a jeep road, which then narrowed to a wonderful newly reconstructed trail. No mud, rocks, or roots here!  Although the walking was easy, the guides kept slowing us down, chiding us with Pole, Pole (Swahili for slowly, slowly). The slower you climb, the better you acclimatize to the altitude. So Pole Pole is the motto of the climb, used as a greeting and encouragement by the porters, passing by at twice our speed with 40 lbs of gear loaded on their heads!

We stopped for lunch in the lush rainforest. Eventually, the forest shrunk and transitioned to heath. We reached camp late afternoon. The tents were already set up, and there was tea and popcorn waiting for us. What a treat! Highly recommend the guides and porters from Tusker Trail.

From town, in the days before the climb, Kilimanjaro was obscured by the thick band of cloud that hovers above the rainforest. Machame camp gave us our first partial views of Kibo, the middle (and highest) crater of the mountain. That night, I felt the first effects of altitude—dizziness, headache, apnea. At we are not yet at 10,000 ft; we are 5,000 ft higher than where we began in the morning.

To be continued…

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