The winds whistled to the east, the slow sounds of boots and rocks grazing murmured through the surroundings, our headlights illuminated the only source of light, and I really needed to take a shit.
I had decided it’d be a brilliant idea to celebrate my 27th birthday on Mount Kilimanjaro but luckily for me, I caught a cold on my actual birthday. Let’s just say I spent it miserably tucked inside my sleeping bag for a good chunk of the day while depleting half of the group’s toilet paper supply. I foolishly made the mistake of thinking I was Chinese Superman by hiking with only a T-shirt on since the “sun was out” and was paying the price on Summit night.
But let me backtrack a few days before I was overly constipated. Kilimanjaro had always been on my radar, but I actually didn’t confirm it until a few weeks before the climb. Due to my constraining budget and wallet-slashing expense of Kilimanjaro, I luckily found a company to work with – in exchange for some “high-quality pictures,” I’d pay a super discounted fee to climb the mountain. I was overly excited and tried to proclaim the great news to my mother on WhatsApp to later see her enthusiastic response, “Be safe.”
With my mother’s full-on support, I was ready to own the mountain. Weeks prior to the climb, my training regiment consisted of long bus rides through South Africa mixed with cheap local beer and jogging a few times a week. There were no climbs to acclimate to the altitude, but I did a few hikes prior and felt like I was ready…I mean I met some of the people traveling who did Kilimanjaro and if they could do it, I could definitely do it. However, I did not have the sufficient equipment to climb the mountain. The next part of the story is where I get played and cheated…
My host’s flat-mate in Arusha assured me he’d get me the proper equipment before my climb, and I figured the prices he’d charge me would be discounted. However, on the day of the climb, we went to a local equipment garage in the center of town, and I learned shitty gloves were $21, a damn poncho was $21, and a cheap jacket was $35. I thought I needed hiking boots until I found out they were $50 to rent. I will let my feet freeze and suffer from hypothermia before I rent hiking boots for $50. WTF! I was in shock before the climb even started because I ended up forking over $77 to rent 3 pieces of equipment (of which were totally necessary). When the guides and porters found out how much I paid, I was the laughingstock of the entire bus.
Aside from getting ripped of, climb itself is actually relatively easy minus summit night if you are pretty fit. You venture through different climates ranging from the jungle up to glaciers, and it’s quite marvelous on a nice day. Many articles and pictures of Kilimanjaro can be found online but to friends who are thinking of climbing, these are some tips that I remember:
- If you rent, don’t rent from a local garage near the Clock Tower in Arusha. Bring your own gear if you can because the super-duper porters will carry most things for you. Otherwise, a more reasonable price for gloves is $5 - $10
- Bring wet wipes if you can because you will smell like ass with no shower for 7 days. But more importantly, you want to keep your ass clean to prevent ass chafing between the dirt and your underwear...
- Bring a lot of snacks…if you can’t hold them, your super-duper porters can. While it depends from company to company, we didn’t get a full-on meal before summit day…just tea and biscuits, and I was practically begging for food on summit night
- Bring iodine tablets to clean the water (depends from company to company but our water for the day came from the stream)
- Bring enough clothes which includes 2 layers of pants, many upper layers, and try to bring hiking boots with several layers of socks. A face mask would’ve also been nice. I cheaply decided to use my trail runners with 4 pairs of socks, and my guide had to massage my frozen feet at the very top
- Remember to thank your guides, your cooks, and your porters – without them, you most likely will never make it to the top
Kilimanjaro is one of those hikes where you only do once in your lifetime. One because it’s kind of hellish and two (most importantly), it may deplete your budget. My guide asked me if I would do it again if he offered, and I said hell no. And while I spent my birthday lying tight in a sleeping bag some 13,000 feet above sea level coughing and sneezing, reaching the top is a memory I’ll never forget.