Kilimanjaro: Slipping. Climbing. Closer.

This is Part III of a mini series.

I unzip the tent fly and poke my head outside, instantly sending a cascade of feathery frost down my neck and under my shirt. Good morning!

It’s clear and cold and beautiful. We enjoy another wonderful breakfast. What Dustin creates in a tent over one or two gas burners would be excellent fare in many reputable restaurants back home; he is a chef, not a cook.

Ice glistens, covering every rock and plant as we begin our day’s hike, adding to an already spectacular environment. Barren volcanic boulder fields are juxtaposed by Kilimanjaro’s radiant walls of ice and glacier. She’s a beauty of a mountain and wouldn’t appear out of place in Alaska or Canada. Her size and ruggedness make me eager to explore other ranges that are home to great peaks such as those found in South America or Nepal.

Our path takes us up and over 15,000ft (4600meters for you, Roi) at Lava Tower in weather deteriorating from clear and blue to gray, foggy, snowy, windy. We eat lunch in the narrow pass between Kili’s slopes and a wall of cliffs, huddling behind rocks, feet creating individual snow drifts and are decidedly thrilled not to be staying the night. In these conditions, Lave Tower is a bleak and desolate place. 

Our descent leads though vast ancient lava flows. Through blowing snow, spirits seemed to drift among fog shrouded boulders, creating a feeling equal parts mystifying and unnerving.

Snow became rain and Kyle found himself sprawled on the ground more than once. (Make a note of this, it’ll come into play in later posts). As we descended towards camp, the valley became green with trees and plant life reminiscent of our desert home. Hours could have been spent exploring this natural playground, but food and rest were more important. Each of us was feeling healthy, showing little sign of trouble after our high crossing and allowed ourselves to relax. Then Travis ran to use the squatty potty and came back stumbling with a massive headache, giving us all a gristle of self-doubt to gnaw on. We dug out Advil and Diamox and forced tea down his gullet. 

In the preceding days, none in our group had struggled, we were strong and efficient. John and Emmanuel had taken to calling us Simba Team, or lion team in English, promising the title wasn’t given to every group. They said we could bypass our next day’s camp and complete the climb in 6 days, giving us an additional day in Moshi or on a safari. Once we told them of Travis’ headache, they hesitated, but said it was normal after crossing over Lava Tower. Knowing this was Kyle’s dream and wanting to optimize our summit chances, we elected to stick with our original plan.

Enjoying another great dinner, we laughed as Kyle told us that after one of his falls a group of porters, with loads balanced on their heads, stepped over him as if he were only another obstacle in the trail.

Barranco Wall

Travis recovered and felt great the next day, proving John correct, which is good since Barranco Wall loomed above our camp.

Approximately 800ft in height, a hiking route up the wall seemed improbable, but existed. 3rd and a little 4th class climbing was required, meaning the use of hands was mandatory and there were real consequences if one were to fall. Fun stuff!

We frolicked up it scrambling around cliff edges for photos, trying to find more difficult routes (i.e. more fun), passing other parties and occasionally getting chided by other guides worried about our safety. But this was comfortable! This is what we do at home! 

He does exist!

Our own guides seemed to be impressed by our aptitude in this terrain, particularly Keri’s. Being a woman and quite happy scrambling up mountains, she is very much an anomaly, when, from all appearances, most clients looked uncomfortable, slightly clumsy, and are men. She’s a rock star.

No help needed

John and Keri rock starring

Travis’ game of riddles saw us through more miles of rain, that had thankfully held off until we’d  crested Barranco Wall. Luck was with us and everyone remained upright. Rain subsided during the night and I met Travis in the 4am cold to shoot a few photos. Whether elevation or excitement, neither of us was sleeping much past 4 or 5am. The mountain was barely a shadow in the pre-dawn blackness.

Our fifth day would take us to our final camp prior to our summit attempt. Up and down, from desolate plains into and out of lush valleys. 

As my dad said in every home video "I made it, too." 

Switchbacks led up a final steep slope to a rocky, barren escarpment above the clouds that would be our home for the next 12 hours. 



Amazingly there were still small tuffs of grass and small rodents darting between rocks. The camp mood was generally relaxed. Porters and guides lounged and napped, so did clients. Small solar panels sprouted up on every rock and I found it promising that so many of the porters and guides carried them. What seemed a luxury only a few years ago has become accessible technology in a very poor place.

We charged cameras and watches, they charged portable speakers and phones.


Emmanuel came over after dinner to brief us on the plan. “You guys Simba Team, can sleep in extra hour and half, get up 12:30 (yes, that’s AM), coffee and tea, leave for summit 1:00.”

Bring your A game for this one: 15300ft and coffee can sized hole...

Kili emerged from the clouds that evening, looking close enough to pluck a snowball from the summit. Being so close to having Kyle achieve this dream and goal was very cool. Keep breathing easy, one step at a time.

Mawenzi, one of three cones making up Kilimanjaro 


  1. Who's that Swell gal with you in these far-out and far-away places?
    Your pictures are amazing, Jesse! You sure have the ability to capture the beauty and awe.


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