Christmas in Tanzania – climbing KILIMANJARO on Christmas Day

Hey travellers!

I am alive!!!!!

And why shouldn’t I? Because I have just done the MOST AWESOME, BEAUTIFUL, BEST AND WORST expedition in my life.

In this article I’ll tell you everything about my hike to the highest mountain of Africa, the highest stand-alone mountain in the world and one of the highest volcanoes in the world, which is 5.895 m above sea level. 

For me it was the highest peak in my life as well, before this, the highest one was Klein Matterhorn at the altitude of just a little bit over 4000 meters, so the difference was almost 2000 meters. I spend half of my year in the mountains, but what I’ve experienced here is definitely not what I expected.

So let me start from the beginning. How this idea came into being, you already know because you surely read one of the previous articles 🙂 In a nutshell, me and my mom got totally crazy.

Here is some technical information about the climb.
Kilimanjaro can only be reached with a guide. More precisely, with an agency, which gives you the guides. Together with the guides you’re given porters and chefs without whom it’s not possible either. You can book either a private trip (which is of course more expensive) or join a 5-8-member group. Since we are probably the only ones in the world who have decided to climb Kilimanjaro on Christmas Eve, even though we have a booked a group hike, it was just the two of us. You also need to choose the route you want to go. There are about 5 of them and their difficulty is various. Since we wanted it to be a bit challenging, we’ve chosen a slightly more difficult Machame Route that starts at 1800 m.a.s.l. and ends at the peak at 5,895 m.a.s.l., so the altitude gain is quite large. Distance-wise, this route measures about 80 km and the advantage is that it doesn’t return the same way, so you can see a little more. It takes 4.5 days up and 1.5 days down.

It should be noted that the climb to Kilimanjaro is an incredibly expensive thing and the cost per person per person ranges from $1500 to $2500. When selecting an agency, you need to read the reviews (such as TripAdviser) because there are lots of fake agencies that just take the money and then never gets back to you, so if you find a price below $1500, it’s suspicious. And the price doesn’t end there. In Tanzania it’s required to give tips to all members of the expedition. Guides take $25/day, chefs $15/day, and porters $10/day, so for a 6-day run, you’ll have to add another $750.

On the other hand, when you think about it, it makes sense. Just the entrance to the national park is $800/person/week. Now add the food you eat and guides’ & porters’ salary.

We chose Monkey Adventures, which were absolutely great. Everything was carefully prepared, the guides were nice and I think they gave us extra care. So for the two of us, there were two guides (if one of us had to come back, the other could go on), 1 chef (who took care of all the food & cooking) and 6 porters (who carried all the things – food, water, tents, our big backpacks). We carried only a small backpack with personal things that might have been needed during the day – cameras, raincoats, phones, energy bars, etc.

So it all happened and a few days before Christmas we were already sitting on an Emirates plane.

The flights were a bit complicated, because we only found tickets from Vienna, so on the 18th of December we set off with RegioJet from Prague to Vienna, where we slept and in the morning we boarded the plane from Vienna to Dubai. In Dubai, we had to spend the night at the airport, and in the morning we flew by another plane from Dubai to Dar Es Salaam. Finally, we found ourselves in Tanzania, but we hadny’t won the struggle yet and here comes the first problem.

We were supposed to take another plane from Dar Es Salaam to Kilimanjaro International Airport with the local airline called FastJet at 19:25, but we found out that our flight was canceled when we were trying to find the gate on the information board. Just like that. What now?! The first freakout happened, because the next morning we were supposed to start the hike to Kilimanjaro! I was struggling at the FastJet counter and after an hour and a half I realized that the flight was really cancelled and there was nothing I could do about it. I had to get the money back and book another flight that would get us to Kilimanjaro that day. Fortunately, there was another one airline flying at 20:00, so we bought new tickets (twice as expensive!!!) and finally got to Kilimanjaro Airport just a little bit later. We were picked up and taken to the hotel.

On the 20th of December, we got out of bed in a small hotel somewhere in the middle of Africa in a small town called Moshi. At 9.30am, five Africans arrived, sat down with us and checked whether we had everything that was needed for the climb.

Then we were taken to the Gate of NP (Machame Gate) by a sketchy African van, where each of us got registered (in case we never returned I guess haha), we picked up porters who were already re-packing their bags to be exactly 20kgs – at the entrance there was even a scale, where the weight was watched very strictly. They put the huge bags on their heads, and started off with a perfect balance.

DAY ONE: RAINFOREST (1800 m.a.s.l. –> 2835 m.a.s.l.)

The first day we walked through the rainforest where the temperature was around 30 degrees and the humidity around 85 percent. I was super-sticky & sweaty in five minutes. Everywhere around us, there were the most exotic birds and monkeys (specifically blue monkeys as the guide told me) sliding down on lianas and screaming at each other. The path was still very nice, so it was all good & pretty easy. I remember that the guides had an incredibly slow pace, and I still had a tendency to overtake them, but they kept saying „pole pole“, which means “slow, slow” in Swahili. Well, they knew why they were saying that, haha.

In the afternoon, after about 6 hours of walking and a thousand meters of altitude gain, we reached the first camp called Machame Camp. To my surprise, all the tents were already set up, and my surprise didn’t go away, when the guides told us that we not only had our sleeping tent, but also our own dining tent where hot tea and popcorn were served right after we came back. There was a table and two chairs inside (?!?). On the table there was a tablecloth (?!?!?!) and on the tablecloth there was hot water, honey, coffee, tea, cocoa, milk, peanut butter, jam, sugar, ketchup, chili sauce, and I don‘t know what else.

I couldn‘t understand that the porters carry not only the table & chairs, but all the other stuff in glass jars as well. I already realized why there were 6 of them.

After the snack, we got into the sleeping tent and prepared everything for sleeping. Then one of the porters brought us hot water to rinse our hands and face before dinner.

We were served (wait for it!) a three-course dinner. We got (now wait for it again) fresh pumpkin soup, fried fish with french fries and vegetables and fresh mango as dessert. I didn‘t understand. When I’m in the mountains, I usually feed myself with toast bread with Nutella or a instant noodles, but this dinner was something epic.

After dinner, there was a meeting, where we discussed the next day’s plans. After that we snuggled into our sleeping bags and fell asleep beaten with heat, demanding dinner and tons of walking.

DAY TWO: MOORLAND (2835 m.n.m -> 3750 m.n.m.)

I think I don‘t need to describe how I felt about a three-course breakfast consisting of porridge, toast egg and pancakes with fresh fruit. In the morning we set off around seven, and walked approximately for four hours. We got out of the tropical rainforest into some kind of moorland, which was something completely different.

For the first time, we saw the second highest mountain of Tanzania called Mt Meru. Temperature was dropping with each meter all the way to pleasant 20°C and we first started to feel the altitude. Our legs were shaking a little, but it was nothing that we couldn’t survive.

We arrived at the next camp around 2pm. At Shira Cave Camp, we put down our backpacks and set off for a short acclimatization hike to about 4000 m.a.s.l., but we returned a little earlier because it started to rain like crazy, so we went back to sleeping bags and chilled till night.

There was an incredible fog in the evening that it was impossible to see the tent next to us and the cold got so bad that we didn’t sleep much at night.

DAY THREE: MOORLAND/ALPINE DESERT (3750 m.a.s.l. -> 4600 m.a.s.l. -> 3900 m.a.s.l.)

In the morning I was woken up by someone, saying: “Eliska, you might want to see this.” And I knew that it meant something really cool which I could capture on my camera, because all these guys were getting used to my photographic freakouts. I had a feeling that the sunrise was somehow epic, and I was right.

I jumped out of my sleeping bag, opened the tent and saw something I’ll never forget. Mt Meru covered in pink cotton candy, frosted tents, and a soft morning light, leaning against the few wind-bent trees.

Even though it could have been around -5 degrees, I got out of the tent into the moon landscape bare foot and as if it was to disappear in 10 seconds.

Kilimanjaro itself was right behind my back and it was suddenly completely forgotten. It was still far away, which caused me goose bumps. Maybe it was caused by not wearing any shoes at the moment, haha.

We set off on a land where you would hardly find any trees. We walked through the gravel and saw the first snow. From the original 3750 m.a.s.l. we reached the Lava Tower Camp at an altitude of 4600 m.a.s.l., where we only had lunch and continued on. Unfortunately, downhill (which always means you have to get back up again). But for the first time I understood what altitude sickness meant. After lunch, my head began to hurt like hell and I felt sick.

Luckily, we were headed back to 3900 m.a.s.l, so after about an hour I felt a lot better, but I was a bit frightened. On the other hand, I was hoping that when I’ve felt like crap once, I might not feel like crap later. Hoping that I got used to the altitude somehow. 

We arrived at the next camp called Baranco Camp, which was 3900 meters above sea level. I remember being tired, but the excitement seemed to exceed the fatigue. I didn’t think about it at all, and all I had on my mind before was the mountains. Actually, just one.

In the afternoon, the fog had covered the landscape again, which only added to the drama of the whole area. Now it really reminded me of the Moon. All around us, there were palms looking like claws of some pterodactyl, haha.

DAY FOUR: ALPINE DESERT (3900 m.a.s.l. -> 4673 m.a.s.l.)

In the morning at Baranco Camp, one of the lower peaks of Kilimanjaro, covered by snow, sneaked out of the fog. It was very cold in the morning, I’d say around -10°C. When you look at the first photo, you will see a nearly perpendicular rocky wall behind the green tent, and you can only guess where our path led.

There was a traffic jam on the wall. People were slow and they had to use their hands to climb. When we finally made it to the top, we actually got to the cloud level, which was a spectacular show for our eyes!

We had our lunch at Karanga Camp and the worst thing that day was the fact that we had to climb back down from those 4200 m.a.s.l. to 3995 m.a.s.l. and then up again to 4673 m.a.s.l. This ascent and descent was endless, which made our power level go down super-quickly.

At the end of the fourth day, we finally made it to the basecamp, called Barafu Camp, from where it was “only” 6 hours to the summit.

Right after we got there, we had an early dinner and got to the sleeping bags right afterwards, so we could get at least a few hours of sleep before the summit hike. It’s neccessary to start walking around midnight, so there is enough time to get back. Also my feeling is that the guides don’t want the clients to see what’s ahead of them because they would all give it up right away, haha 🙂

Of course I didn‘t even fall asleep. First of all, it was cold as hell, and second, I was just too excited. I was feeling okay and my head didn’t hurt, which was great.

The guides woke us up at 11.30pm, we got warm tea and dry biscuits – eggs and pancakes would have probably killed us during the ascend haha:)

I put on all the clothes I had. 3 pairs of pants, 3 t-shirts and 3 jackets, beanie, ski gloves, two pairs of socks and all the hoods. I looked like an Eskimo and my movements reminded me of a stuffed penguin.

We lit the headlamps and started walking, incredibly slowly. The first few dozen meters were alright, I felt good, mom a bit worse. But then it came.

It all started in about 4800 m.a.s.l.

Our legs started to shake in such a way, that we were stumbling over them and were unable to keep our balance. I never felt like that before, and the closest feeling was probably the feeling of total drunkenness. But not the one, when you laugh at every stupidity and tell funny stories about yourself. The one that you had wayyyyy too much wine and you know you’re gonna throw up every second.

It was also a feeling of fainting and falling asleep at the same time. I couldn’t tell what was still reality and what was just a dream. I didn’t know about myself. I didn’t feel my hands and actually my legs neither.

At first it was still controllable, but as we climbed higher, I couldn’t handle it. Sometimes the guide had to catch me, so I wouldn’t fall on the ground. I had to sit on a stone every ten steps. Sometimes I fell from that stone. But as I was sitting on the frozen stones, it started to get cold. First on my fingers, then on my nose and then on the entire body.

The guide pulled another down jacket out of his backpack (I had no idea he had one) and put it on me. I wasn’t able to do that on my own.

I had a big problem with my breathing as well. It felt like someone was strangling me. Even though my one step was about ten centimeters long, I was breathing as if I was running the final kilometer of a marathon.

I tried to eat a Snickers on the way, but I wasn’t even able to chew it. I never had such a lost of appetite.

After that, I don’t remember anything.

Just Stella Point, which means you’re almost there. When the guide told us that there is one last hour of walking, I started to throw up. My mom was surprisingly quiet, she didn’t say a word for the last four hours and was white as a wall. Surprisingly she was managing it a little better than I was.

The sun started to rise and we were supposed to be on the summit at the sunrise. Well, we weren’t. There was still another 300 metres of altitude we had to beat. Even though it was almost flat from Stella Point, I wasn’t even able to manage that.

My guide had to drag me for the last kilometre. I remember that, because we were walking along a glacier and you know how much I love glaciers, so I woke up a little bit.

We made it to Stella Point! My guide asked me if I want to go down for the eighth time.I always answered him “no way, I got it, and I’m gonna make it even if I had to crawl on my knees.

Well that was not far from the truth. My mom is smiling in the picture. I don’t get it.

This picture perfectly shows my hopelessness, fatigue and a total break-down. My guide is putting another beanie on me. Last 15 minutes to the summit. Temperature was around -20°C.

I’m collapsing again and probably thinking whether to throw up or not. My mom is trying to smile, but her face is so white, that blends in with the glacier. Still hasn’t said a word.

And then, from my hallucinogenic thoughts, THE SIGN appeared in front of my eyes. I had just seen it in the pictures, but now it was real. I knew that was it. No more struggle.

I suddenly forgot about throwing up, unbearable headache and feeling sick. I immediately started crying. I don’t know why. My mom did too, when she saw me. According to guide’s watch, it was -25°C and an hour and a half later than our estimated time of arrival.

Once I removed my gloves to take a few photos, my fingertips started to give me hard times, but I didn’t mind. I took off one down jacket to not look like Michelin in the photos, and suddenly it wasn’t even cold at all.

That enthusiasm and joy warmed me up – I know, it sounds like a cliché, but I would be surprised if those 250 heartbeats/min. didn’t melt my circulation, haha.

It’s also worth saying that we were the only ones on the summit. On the other hand, who would want to suffer like that on Christmas Day, right? Haha

The feeling of standing on the top of a whole continent was absolutely indescribable. I was so proud of us, even though let’s face it – without the guides, we would’ve turned around at 5000 m.a.s.l. We made it. The dreams are supposed to come true on Christmas, so here’s one of our dreams coming true. The biggest one. The most unforgettable one.

(you might wonder why my tongue is blue. It’s from a candy my guide gave me to help me manage better. Didn’t help.)

We spent about 10 minutes on the top and then set off for the descent. I brought frostbites of my nose, which actually peeled three days later. Till now, I can’t feel anything in my left finger tip.

Back at Stella Point. I was feeling a lot better, but not well enough for a smile haha.

It took us about 4  hours to get back to the basecamp, but even those four hours were endless.

When the porters, who stayed in the basecamp, saw me, they brought me a chair to sit down and removed all the jackets from me. I bet I looked like I couldn’t do that on my own. To tell the truth, probably not.

We literally fell into the tent with my mom and immediately fell asleep. We got an hour to sleep and then we had to pack and get going again. No rest.

From 5895 m.a.s.l. we had to get down to 3100 m.a.s.l. all the way to this camp, where this final photo was taken.

The next day we only had to get from 3100 ma.s.l. to 1800 m.a.s.l. and the whole adventure was suddenly over. You have no idea how much we were looking forward to taking a shower and sleeping in a warm bed. 

And now you can ask questions! I promise I’ll answer all of them! And in case you don’t have any, you can let me know how you liked the article, whether you’d do such a thing or what you did for Christmas. I’d love to read your stories too! 🙂