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Ascent of Kilimanjaro on 2016-01-02

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Rob Woodall -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Duane Gilliland
Jill Webster
Adrian Rayner
Ian Charters -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Richard Tait
Pauline C.
Ayumwi L. (Guide)
Dilmas Z. (Guide)
Goodluck M. (Guide)
Date:Saturday, January 2, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Kilimanjaro
    Location:Tanzania
    Elevation:5895 m / 19341 ft

Ascent Trip Report

Introduction: Kilimanjaro can only be climbed by booking an expensive guided trip through a licensed tour agency. For us, it worked out well to get together a group of interested friends/acquaintances with solid hiking experience, and then book a trip in advance with a recommended agency. Rob took the lead in organizing our trip, which turned out to be a complex three-week affair that included nine different people climbing several different peaks and doing safaris in different combinations. The company we used to organize all this was Trekilil, and we were happy with their services, especially the way they handled all the logistics and coordination of our complex individual itineraries. Their on-mountain crew was first-rate, too.

The Kilimanjaro portion of our trip included eight trekkers, 5 from England (Rob, Adrian, Richard, Ian, Pauline) and 3 from the US (Duane, Jill, and myself). Everyone knew at least one or two others in a loose web—I had climbed before with Rob, Duane, and Jill. We were keen to climb to the summit via the Western Breach route, since we were all relatively experienced hikers/climbers and wanted the challenge and excitement of this “scramble”, the hardest and most scenic normal route to the summit.

We wound up using the Shira Plateau approach route, starting at the Morum Barrier (3390m/11,122 ft), doing a seven-day, six-night trip. While we were all successful in reaching the summit with no serious problems, I felt that ideally we should have had an extra day for our trip, perhaps using the Lemosho Route and its lower start. Many of us, including me, had minor but persistent altitude sickness that might have been helped by an extra day up-front that started lower.

Our party of eight had a support crew of 32 Tanzanians: 1 head guide, 2 assistant guides, 1 cook, 1 assistant cook, 2 waiters, 1 cook for the crew, 1 toilet man, 1 dishwasher, 1 assistant dishwasher, 1 tent manager, and 20 porters. They carried 4 generously-sized “Eureka!” brand double-occupancy tents for us trekkers, a huge mess tent complete with table and chairs for 9 people, a nice chemical toilet with its own little tent, separate tents for the crew and kitchen, huge amounts of kitchen gear and dishes, and tons of food including things like fresh watermelons and pineapples. Quite an amazing logistical feat, and it seemed like most expeditions on the mountain had similar amenities and client/crew ratios.

Kilimanjaro is a very popular peak, but our route selection and timing gave our party an atypically crowd-free journey. At one campsite we were the only party there, and at a couple others we shared our site with just one or two other expeditions. When we passed by the Barafu camp on the way down, I was staggered by the sheer number of expeditions and tents spread out there, and I was thankful we had climbed on the less-used Shira side of the mountain.

Here is a quick day-by-day synopsis of our trip:

December 27: We all arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport, on several different flights, and Trekiki drivers shuttled us all to the Ilboru Safari Lodge hotel in Arusha. It was a nice hotel, but I can’t recommend it due to the horribly rutted and rough access road that has to be navigated any time you come or go. I was the last to arrive, at 11:30 PM, due to my large planeload of passengers overwhelming the immigration staff at the airport.

December 28: Our team was driven to the Morum Barrier trailhead, highest on the mountain, in 2 Land Cruisers. It was a long drive on a reasonable dirt road, and we have to stop for lengthy paperwork and procedures at the park entrance office. We don’t start hiking until 4:40 PM and it was an easy hour-long hike across grassy moorland to the Shira 1 campsite (3490m/11,450 ft).

December 29: Today’s goal was to hike from the Shira 1 Camp to the Shira 2 Camp (3890m/12,760 ft). Some of us were keen to climb to the third-highest major summit of the Kilimanjaro massif, the nearby Shira Ridge, so Rob, Adrian, Jill, and I, accompanied by Goodluck and Dilmas, the two assistant guides, climbed obscure game trails southwest and scrambled up Johnsell Point, and then convinced the guides that we needed to also bag the slightly higher Klute Peak, too. We then bushwhacked down, cut across the flat Shira Plateau, and then joined the main path or the uphill climb to the Shira 2 campsite, seeing no one else on the trail all day. I was feeling very nauseous and lightheaded on the final part of our long hike, the last part in steady rain and thick clouds. Somehow I never actually barfed but my appetite was not good in the evening.

December 30: All 8 of us hiked together uphill from the Shira 2 camp to the Lava Tower camp (4640m/15,220 ft), at our slow (“pole pole”) pace taking several hours to do the 4.2 miles. After a rest in camp, six of us (all but Pauline and Richard), plus four guides, scrambled up the fourth-class northwest face of the Lava Tower crag, a fun little outing. I felt better altitude-sickness-wise then yesterday, but our nightly pulse-oximeter readings always seem to have me as the one with the lowest saturation value. We are the only expedition at the Lava Tower camp that night.

December 31: Today was our shortest hiking day, gaining just 200m/650 ft over 0.75 miles from the Lava Tower camp to the Arrow Glacier camp (4870m/15,980 ft). Good thing, too, since many of us were suffering from minor altitude issues—headaches, coughs, and some intestinal problems—and just spending time at altitude without exertion is good. In the late afternoon we all did an acclimatization hike uphill and back, topping out at about 16,300 feet—my highest point reached for calendar year 2015. Not many New Year’s Eve celebrations this night.

January 1: There are two ways people climb the Western Breach. Some leave Arrow Glacier Camp at midnight, climb the route in the dark, and reach the summit at dawn before a long descent. Our plan was to start at 5 AM, allowing us to appreciate the awesome scenery of the Breach during daylight, but requiring us to camp just below the summit at the insanely high altitude of the Crater Camp (5730m/18,800 ft). I felt strangely strong and good while hiking up the scree, occasional snowpatches, and steep blocky natural staircases of the Breach, enjoying the route and the scenery despite wispy clouds. But once we reached the flat crater floor, its surreal ice cliffs, and our tents, I was totally out of it. It rained and snowed all afternoon, scuttling our plans to explore the nearby Ash Pit, and at night I was a bit delirious, leaving my tent to wander around in the cold darkness before coming to my senses and returning to sleep. This was the second highest night of my life, higher then even my Nido camp on Aconcagua.

January 2: We left the Crater Camp before 5 AM and followed our guides as they very slowly switchbacked up a steep snowy slope for 165m/550 ft to the Uhuru Peak crater rim. This slope could require crampons if icy, I thought. I was tired and a bit altitude sick, but the "pole pole" slow pace of the guides really saved me. Once up the slope, a short gentle hike took us to a large sign at the summit of Africa at 7:15 AM, a score or so of climbers already there from the other routes. We stayed at the summit for 45 minutes, taking pictures, resting, and savoring the moment. Jill, Duane, and I had a short ceremony to scatter some of the ashes of our late friend Edward Earl (who was scheduled to come on this trip) while Rob shot a quick video.

Soon it was time to leave the carnival atmosphere of the summit, and we started down at 8 AM. For the next seven hours we all simply hiked downhill for what seemed like forever, over 2000m/6500 ft of vertical loss, to the Mweka Camp at 3070m/10,070 ft. We took many trailside rests on this long, body-pounding descent, including one at the fantastically overcrowded Barafu Camp, and a lunch break (complete with mess tent set-up) at the Millenium Camp. At Mweka we rested in our tents and enjoyed our last hearty catered dinner of the trip.

January 3: In the morning, after breakfast, we conducted a brief formal ceremony where we handed out individual tip amounts to our 32 hard-working crew members, and then started our 3-hour hike down to the Mweka Gate trailhead. It was a pleasant trip down a steep trail in thick forest, a nice change from the rest of our trip, which had been 95% above the treeline since we had started. Many porters passed us. We all reached the Mweka Gate (1640 m/5380 ft) at about 11 AM, a chaotic place where we had to wait in line to sign out at the park office, wait for a while in a picnic shelter, and then board our minibus. Jill had a flight out this afternoon and a special car waiting to take her to the airport, while the rest of us boarded a minibus for the ride back to town. After a celebration lunch at the Pub Alberto in Moshi, we were taken back to the Ilboru Safari Lodge in Arusha.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:1025 m / 3363 ft
    Elevation Loss:4255 m / 13960 ft
    Distance:27.1 km / 16.9 mi
    Grade/Class:Class 3
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles, Guide, Porters, Tent Camp
    Weather:Cold, Calm, Partly Cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:1025 m / 3363 ft
    Distance:5.3 km / 3.3 mi
    Route:Western Breach
    Trailhead:Arrow Glacier Camp  4870 m / 15978 ft
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:4255 m / 13960 ft
    Distance:21.8 km / 13.6 mi
    Route:Barafu-Mweka
    Trailhead:Mweka Gate  1640 m / 5381 ft
Ascent Part of Trip: 2016 - Kilimanjaro (6 nights total away from roads)

Complete Trip Sequence:
OrderPeak/PointDate
1Shira Ridge-Johnsell Peak2015-12-29 a
2Shira Ridge2015-12-29 b
3Lava Tower2015-12-30
4Kilimanjaro-Lower Western Breach2015-12-31
5Kilimanjaro2016-01-02
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO responsibility or liability from use of this data.

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