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THE KILI CHALLENGE

av Magne Aunebakk - January 2014





Climbing Kilimanjaro is an achievement of a lifetime for many people. Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain of the African continent and the highest freestanding mountain in the world – standing at impressive 5.895 meters above sea level.

Kilimanjaro towers over the tawny savannah of northern Tanzania. Every year more than 20.000 trekkers set out to conquer the 5.895 meters peak – many of them having flown in from around the world. But climbing the roof of Africa is physically demanding and half of those who set out turn back before they reach the top.

So - could we make it all the way to the summit - a group of 14 good friends from Bergen in Norway? We were all invited by Tommy Steinsland and Mats Steinsland, two experienced and locally well recognized hikers and climbers in Bergen.

 


We are very fortunate by living in Bergen, as more or less inside the city there are an impressive high number of mountains to hike. We even have our own 7 mountains hike every spring.  The last few months prior to departure Bergen for Kilimanjaro, Tommy and Mats invited the group for weekly hiking training sessions. We should at least not fail reaching the summit due to lack of preparations and exercising. We were in good hands and earned at an early stage respect to experience and knowledge. But one question was left unanswered – could we cope with the altitude of Kilimanjaro?

Climbs to the top of Kilimanjaro are generally done in 5 to 11 days, with the final ascent starting at midnight, to arrive at the peak for sunrise. Out of nine trekking routes to the top of the summit, the Rongai Route was the selected route of several reasons. Our trip was a 6 days trip, with no acclimatisation days in advance.

 

 


The highest point on Kibo, the highest of the 3 peaks forming Mount Kilimanjaro, is named Uhuru Peak – or “freedom” in Kiswahili.

The Rongai route is the only route that approaches Kilimanjaro from the north, close to the Kenyan border. Though gaining popularity amongst climbers, the Rongai route still experiences low traffic. Another advantage with this route is approaching the mountain from one side and walking down on the other side. More to see in other words.

How to organize such an expedition?
With a seemingly endless array of tour operators offering Kilimanjaro experiences, we were lucky due to past experience of Mats, and in particular by Tommy who through local connections organized a team of 50 local porters and guides with documented qualification and local experience.

From the minute of arrival to the Kilimanjaro airport until the very end everything was planned and taken care of. Even the important tipping and staff welfare was organised and agreed prior to our arrival.   

The first night in Tanzania we slept in a lodge close to Moshi, and this was the last night to sleep in a nice bed and the last shower before camping the next 5 nights in small tents. We were all excited and wondered what to come the next few days. The first local word we learned was to go pole-pole…sloww-ly. We should very soon understand, and feel, the full meaning behind that.

Each day of the trip was special and every one different. The lower slopes at the very start of the trail have been denuded by farmers, the forest nothing more than a pine plantation. The next day the forest was again different and seeing the local wildlife like the white Colobus monkey was an attraction.

Already the third day of hiking we could all feel the altitude and the group became slightly more silent, even if the naturally born singers among us got the idea to compose our own Kili song.

 



The forth night we slept at the foot of Mawenzi peak, the second highest of the 3 Kilimanjaro peaks – 5.149 moh. The view from below and all the way to the top of this peak was amazing and wild, and this peak is far more challenging to climb than Kibo. Mawenzi remains one of Africa’s most beautiful and menacing peaks. It is one of the last exotic and enigmatic peaks on the African continent, if not on the earth.

 



The firth day might be defined as a transportation day as marginal altitude was to be gained. After passing an aircraft wreck where the story tells 4 Italian died on their honeymoon, we reached the Kibo Huts - at 4.700 moh. Unfortunately one of us in the group could not cope with the altitude and unable to continue.

The final ascent.

After a few hours rest at Kibo Huts we gathered at midnight, ready for the final ascent. It was now or never. The moment of truth – could we make it or not? There was only one opportunity. Either we would reach Uhuru Peak, or we would not. We would either experience the elation of achieving the peak or the disappointment of coming so close.

 



We made it – all of us.

 



Without taking any risk of insulting anyone in the group we have to be honest and say not all had to go through the same battle - to search for last and final motivation deep inside ourselves in order to walk the countless number of small penguin steps, in complete darkness and sub-zero temperatures. Not all even notices the sunrise, and for some the sunrise was more than a gift from heaven. It was in fact the ticket to Uhuro Peak, but probably still the toughest day ever – and it should be more to come as we would not rest before arrival next camp late in the afternoon.

 



Payback time – Uhuro Peak
The feeling of standing at the roof of Africa is priceless, and for most people a lifetime experience. All the training and preparation in advance pays off. The hard work is suddenly faded away. Luckily – such happiness is possible to achieve again. It is just a matter of winning the toughest battle of them all - fighting yourself and pushing you limits beyond your imagination.

 



What now?
There will definitely be more such expeditions. It’s too late to stop hunger for more - another peak to be climbed. And, as said during the celebration dinner afterwards – it is no doubt that Tommy and Mats are qualified to do this for their living.

 



We will meet again.