Friday, July 12, 2019

Hiking Kilimanjaro via Rongai with Zara Tours

My dad and I climbed Kilimanjaro! There are many tour companies, possible routes, and hike durations to get to the top of Africa's highest mountain. We did a lot of research before we settled on Zara Tours, and the 6-day Rongai route. Although Zara was the most affordable option we considered, they ended up providing such an awesome experience we're glad we chose them. As for our trip, I've broken it down day-by-day below.

Day One

After a short flight (1 hour from Nairobi) and a night at a hotel in town, we were ready to start our journey. The Rongai route we chose starts from the north side of the mountain, so we drove there and began our hike through the rainforest. One of the coolest parts about hiking Kilimanjaro are the multiple climate zones, as you'll see throughout this post. At the camp, there was a hut for rangers working in the park, but we slept in tents.

Day Two

On day two, we passed from the rainforest into moorland. What really makes hiking Kilimanjaro accessible is the impressive team of porters and guides. Here you can see the porters carrying up to 20kg each, mostly on their heads. Every day, the porters would wait until we left camp, pack everything up, pass us on the trail, and have everything set up at the next site by the time we arrived.

Day Three

On the third day, we crossed into the alpine desert and camped at the base of the second-highest peak, Mawenzi. We also caught great views of the summit where we were headed. In the afternoon, we took a short acclimatization hike to help our bodies adjust to the altitude. As an aside, I took altitude medication the whole trip and my dad didn't, but neither of us got altitude sickness.

Day Four

By the fourth day, we were really feeling the loss of comforts like seated toilets and running water. The first photo in this set shows the "toilets" we could use in the camps. I will say that we were pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety of the food cooked by the chef who accompanied us. This was the shortest hiking day, as we made it to base camp and went to bed early in preparation for the summit hike the following day.

Day Five

The longest day started just before midnight with a quick meal before we began our hike that would take us all the way to the summit of Kibo, the highest peak. As it was pitch black, headlamps were required but we still couldn't see anything around us. While the whole trip was a slow climb, this day by far was the slowest. The zig-zag hike to reach the crater rim seemed like it would never end, but we got there before sunrise and turned around to see a string of lit headlamps trailing down the mountain behind us. The temperature was below freezing.

We passed through Gilman's Point (5,685m) and Stella Point (5,756m) on our way to Uhuru Peak (5,895m), the highest point of Kilimanjaro. By that time the sun was up and we had a nice vantage point above the clouds of the rest of the mountain, including its glaciers and the crater. In broad daylight we could finally see the rough terrain we had hiked up that morning, but thankfully much of our hike back was a matter of gliding straight down through the scree. It was honestly the most fun part of the trip. It took us 7 hours to get from base camp to the summit, but only 2.25 hours to cover the same distance coming back down. After a short rest at base camp and a quick bite to eat, we continued our descent for several more hours before pitching camp for the night.

Day Six

The last day was brutal. To our surprise, going down the mountain was much harder on our bodies than going up in the first place. My knees were aching from the impact of marching down such uneven ground for so many hours. When we finally saw the park exit gate, we were exhausted and ready to be done with our hike. We gratefully hopped into the tour company's trucks to head back to the hotel and get a proper night's sleep.

Now that it's over, both of us agree that this trip was absolutely worth it - especially since we both made it to the summit. We had heard some horror stories about altitude sickness and bad weather, but we were extremely lucky and suffered neither the whole trip. We also had an amazing guide, William, who was very experienced with and knowledgeable about Kilimanjaro. With the entire Zara team, we were well taken care of and couldn't have imagined a better Kilimanjaro trek.

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