Kilimanjaro: Day 1 and 2

Part I of this trip can be found HERE

Our van turned right at a sign reading Kilimanjaro National Park, Machame Gate and the road steepened. As we ascended, large leafed trees blurred past our widows with sizable growths hanging from their tops. Bananas. Mixed in with bananas were coffee farms, some of which supplied the beans for the cups of coffee we slurped down only 90 minutes prior. Interestingly, as we drove higher, leaving the brown valleys below, forests grew thicker and more lush. Kilimanjaro being a massive beast protruding 17,000ft above surrounding lands, creates its own weather patterns and the lower slopes are a true rain forest. Though we were there in the dry season, daily rains were not unexpected.

As our guides filled out paper work, our team of ten porters bundled gear and headed up the mountain. We anxiously sat with knees knocking, eating a boxed lunch of freshly prepared chicken, fruit, sandwiches, boiled egg and juice, watching our bags leave without us.

Anxious to move?

 This was a moment Travis, Keri, and I had discussed with some reservation. For our many trips each of us has always carried our own gear, cooked and cleaned our own meals, setup/struck camp independently, fetched our own water. Kilimanjaro is different. It is mandated by the park service that each party has a guide, cook, and porters. The amount of each is based on the number of trekkers. Our five person group had a support crew consisting of two guides, a cook, and ten porters whose job was to see us up and down the mountain in a safe and generally comfortable manner. Travis, Keri, and I were not used to being pampered in this way and were unsure how to feel about others carrying our dirty underwear. We told ourselves we were here and this was how things are done. In a country with little economic wealth, westerners pursuing a mountain summit provided and population of young men (and a handful of women) jobs. During the proceeding days, we’d be countlessly amazed by each of our support crew.

Eventually, after Kyle’s fourth or fifth visit to the bathroom (he was well hydrated), our guides ushered us through the gate and we officially began our ascent. The “trail” was a graveled double track through rain forest. Some glances were exchanged, each saying “is this how the trail will be for the next 7 days, a graded track?” No.

Around a bend and suddenly the trail led up log steps, slick and slimy with dark volcanic mud. The forest came closer, monkeys howled and leapt between trees, light filtered through a puzzle like canopy to illuminate flowers, we took our time and went too fast. Emmanuel and John, our guides with a combined 30 years experience, let us set the pace this first day. 

Puzzle Peace

Emmanuel, very soft-spoken (we all leaned in when he talked) with a hint of sternness and deliberate actions was our lead guide. John, Rastafarian, dreadlocked, and boisterously positive was very much his opposite. Both had completed college to become guides and had families down in Moshi. Their English was much better than our Swahili and occasional misinterpretations made us all smile.

Who's who?

Whenever one of us would stop for a photo, Emmanuel or John would name the flora and herd us back to the group once we’d finish capturing a masterpiece. This continued until we reached our camp in thick, verdant forest at 9900ft where we found a handful of tents pitched: a mess tent, a tent for Roi, a tent for Travis and Kyle, one for me and Keri, and a handful of others for our crew. 


We were served our first meal after being given bowls of hot water to rinse sweat and dirt from our bodies. A three course meal! Soup, heaping plates of noodles and fresh stewed vegetables with a small portion of local beef, and dessert of sliced mango. This was not our normal freeze dried ultra-lite fare. Surely this wouldn’t continue? 

A cold fog rose after dinner, forcing us to our tents for the night. Some place behind trees and fog, the mountain loomed. We had yet to see it.

Morning dawned, clammy and cold. Breakfast woke us up: crepes, omelets, fruit, toast. How is this possible?

We packed our bags and left them in our tents for our porters to package and haul. We carried only small day packs with cameras, water, snacks, and a few layers. The clouds had cleared and we were confronted by Kilimanjaro for the first time!

We were excited to start moving and took off behind Emmanuel. Keri drew our group’s first “pole, pole” or slowly, slowly, which was the mountains unofficial rally cry to those climbing it’s flanks. Our guides set our pace, never difficult, always steady. Views opened. The always slick trail became steeper, rockier and more narrow, battling our surroundings for attention. Vegetation changed as we hiked higher. Trees became smaller, more spread apart, hanging moss took over available surfaces and colors besides green began to appear.

We were in limbo; brown, hazy plains 10,000ft below and Kili’s glittering summit glaciers 9,000ft above. Rain found us late in the day’s hike. Through our visible breath and downpour, Keri’s smile brimmed with enough life and radiance to make our surroundings drab.

We shook the wet from our sleeves while we signed the camp register, then wandered off for a nap. Keri and I fell asleep to the sing song rhythm of our porters conversing in a foreign language. Travis could be heard teaching Kyle the finer points of tent living; don’t come in the tent wearing your shoes from the bathroom, lets pile our gear in the middle so I (Travis) can get in too, etc…

Rain stopped and now everything was beautiful, full of energy. We took in a mountain ballet as clouds darted into valleys and soared up distant ridges. 

To the west, earth fell away. 

To the east, Kili shown through the clouds, displaying dribbles of ice that sent Travis and I racing for our telephoto lenses and a closer look. 

I peeked into the cook tent and glimpsed an entire chicken, feathers strewn about the dirt, in a pot resting on a large single burner. Potatoes, cabbage, and corn were stacked against the tent’s edges. Another amazing meal, three or four courses. 

Not dinner. 12,500ft and raining. Resilient

At the meal’s conclusion Emmanuel and John poked their heads inside, “tomorrow, get up 630, breakfast, leave 730. Okay?”

We all knew Emmanuel’s okay was more statement then question.

And the sun set.

Squaty Potty with a view


  1. This is really awesome, looking forward to reading more. You may inspire others, like me, to take this trip someday.


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