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Top of Africa: An Experience of a Lifetime

I wrote about our preparation to climb/trek Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in 2013, but here we share our journey to the top in pictures:

Day 1: Machame Gate to Machame Hut

The climb started from Machame Gate (1830m), we walked through the lush lower slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Slowly gaining altitude while enjoying the diverse flora and fauna of the rain forest, we arrived to the first campground, Machame Hut, situated at 3000m above sea level.

Day 1: Machame Gate

Day 1: Starting Point

Day 2: Machame Camp to Shira Camp

This was a shorter day climbing up a steep ridge to reach a small semicircular cliff known as Picnic site, and continued up a gentler ascent through the lower alpine moorland, which is known for beautiful wild alpine flowers. We got our first closer look at the glaciated dome of Kibo.

Day 2: Machame to Shira

Day 2: Happy trekkers

Day 2: Hiking at an elevation of 11,300 feet. There was frost in the early morning.

Day 3: Shira Camp to Barranco Valley

On day 3 we walked for about 6 hours on a gentle ascent with panoramic views. We traversed the southwest side of Kilimanjaro, passing underneath the Lava Tower and the final section of the Western Breach and after hot lunch the bottom of the Lava Tower (4,600 m.) we descended to the bottom of the Great Barranco valley (3,900 m.).

Day 3: Shira is one of the three peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and on clear days, the view of the summit is spectacular. We were lucky!

Day 3: Tea time. We also had breakfast in the same setting (porridge, eggs, bread, coffee/chocolate/tea)

Day 4: Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp

A steep climb up the eastern wall lead us just below the Heim Glacier, where we had spectacular views of Kilimanjaro. We then took a steep exit up the Great Barranco Wall, which divided us from the southeastern slopes of Kibo, the trail continued down into the alpine desert of the Karanga Valley, finally we had a steep climb up to Karanga Camp.

Day 4: Barranco campground

Day 4: Lunch Break

Day 4: Already above the clouds

Day 5: Karanga Camp to Barafu Camp

We had a steep climb out of Karanga, an easy path on compacted scree with wide views through an empty and dry landscape up to Barafu Camp. We were able to see the two peaks Kibo and Mawenzi. After lunch at the Camp, we spent the afternoon resting since we needed to prepare and gain energy for the final ascent before an early night summit walk.

Day 5: "Pole Pole" (easy, easy) to Barafu

Day 5: The summit felt closer and closer

Day 6: Barafu Camp to Summit

Woke up at 11:30PM on day 5 to start the ascending to the summit and started walking around 11:45. It was pitch black and freezing cold. Then we began a steep climb over loose volcanic scree at a slow but steady pace. Then at 6am we reached the rim of the main crater, Stella Point, at 5,735m. We rested there for few minutes to enjoy the sunrise over.

This was the most emotional moment of the entire climb. As soon as we realized we were in Stella Point, some of us even cried. We hugged each other and continued to walk to Uhuru Peak.

It was freezing, I didn’t feel my toes or fingers and was not able to take all the pictures I intended to.  But we made it!!! No man was left behind as everyone in our group made it. We had tears of joy, tears of exhaustion and tears of pride.

Day 6: Summit day. Here at Stella Point.

Day 6: Summit. Tired, dizzy from the altitude sickness and cold, but so excited!

Day 6: We made it!

Day 6: At the summit with our group and guides. Proudly waving the Puerto Rican flag.

Day 6: Celebrating the victory with our guides!

Day 7: Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate to Arusha

After reaching the summit, we began to descent and spent the night at Mweka.  We were without a single piece of clean underwear or clothes and were covered in dust everywhere! We made it to the gate where the bus was waiting for us to take us to the hotel where we finally were able to shower after 7 days.

Day 7: Kids wait at Mweka Gate and ask the “Wazungus” (white people) “Pipi” (candy)

Day 7: On our way to the hotel, dreaming about a hot shower

See our video for more pictures:

A note about the porters

I want to take this opportunity to give credit to the porters because without them we wouldn’t have been able to go as far as we did. The porters were  the heart and soul of our trek and without their hard work wouldn’t be possible to fully experience this adventure. Unfortunately, we always hear about the stories of those who made it to the top and rarely hear about those who work “behind the scenes” to make someone’s dream possible.

The porters are often impoverished Tanzanians who depend on this labor-intensive employment, risking their own lives, in order to feed themselves and their families. They don’t have a Department of Labor to protect them. They can’t file a complain with the EEOC or OSHA when they work under poor working conditions.  Basically a company employs the guide who then is responsible for hiring the porters. Porters can even be taken into service the morning of the climb itself. And many companies hold no responsibility for the porter if he should become ill while climbing.

Most of the time, Porters often eat just one meal at the end of each day, primarily a local corn-porridge called “Ugali”. Every year a few porters find their death on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and the most common cause of death, is exposure to the harsh weather conditions. This is not surprising, given the ragged clothes many wear.

How can you help?

If you are going to climb Kili (or even if you don’t), consider donating some of your clothes (or bring some from home) since often times these porters climb Kilimanjaro without any adequate clothing or equipment.

Make sure the company you are using to climb Kilimanjaro treats the porters with respect and dignity.

Don’t be cheap and give them the tip they deserve at the end.

Treat them with dignity. Smile, greet them, talk to them, get to know them.


To read more about the porters, consider visiting some of the following websites:

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