Luxury Kilimanjaro ClimbThe Road to Kilimanjaro
You make it look easy. You’re a rock star in your career, well on your way to the very top, if not already there. You’re an Olympic level spouse, who would be awarded a gold medal on the podium for all you do. And forget about saving up for your children’s future therapy bills; you are their idol, perfect parent and professed best friend in the world. You are admired, slightly envied but generally beloved by all. Scratch the surface though beyond the beautifully curated Instagram posts and there was, is, and will be a lot of blood, sweat and tears in that picture perfect life. And to keep up this utopian existence? It’s a hustle. The pressure can be immense, along with the strife that living long enough brings with your colleagues, significant other and those adorable kids. Even without all of the above in your life, you’ve got a story, and something to work out. You’re one tough cookie, but there comes a time, when it’s your turn to summit a mountain. We’re here to welcome you to Tanzania and Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa at 19,341 feet.
Good for: Couples who are strongly in sync, singles, (especially solo travelers) or groups of friends looking for a bucket list experience. This is the ultimate guy or girl’s trip. Surprisingly, (or not) a number women we interviewed make this journey to signify a milestone in their lives, and to prove to themselves how bada-- they really are. The faint of heart need not apply; while not a technical climb, will power and the ability to rough it are key.
Suggested Climb: At least 5 nights/6 days, and preferably 8 nights/9 days if you want to increase your chances of reaching the summit. The longer your trek, the more time you have to acclimate to the altitude, which can be the greatest challenge, besides your own mental barriers.
Time of Year: End of December/January to March, and June to October are the best times given Mother Nature and the rainy season. Rain increases the difficulty and stability of the trails. Over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays is ideal given the time it will take for the climb itself and the much needed recovery after your trek.
Choosing Your Expedition Company: If you want to do this once, and do it right, there is only one company to climb with: Thomson Safaris. You can cut corners on cost, but you’ll be skimping on health and safety, not to mention quality of experience. The guys at Thomson Safari have their game down on the logistics and resources it takes to successfully summit Kili. The premise is simple; they pay their guides the best on the mountain, and with the best compensation, comes the best team. It literally takes a village to summit Kili; for 7 trekkers, it properly takes at least 30-35 guides and porters to get you to the summit. You put your life in the hands of the Lead Guide and Support Guides, who get you up the mountain and make the life-dependent judgment calls on the trail. Your porters will sometimes hike three hours back and forth to bring fresh water to your camp, which they sanitize through a careful process. In other words, you want people who really know what they’re doing. It’s unreal that your team to the summit not only does the hike with you, but they carry all the tents, cooking equipment, toilets, your bags and everything needed to make camp as relatively comfortable as you can be in the situation. For those who are not marathon runners and tri-athletes, consider getting a personal porter who will carry your daypack and also make sure you are drinking and eating enough on the trail. Personal porters are lifesavers who also become your very own cheering section as you need it on the way to the top.
· The first day of the hike. You’ve spent months preparing, or at least buying the unreal amount of gear it will take to summit Kilimanjaro. Your adrenaline is at a high. Your first day is the freshest set of legs you will have on the climb, and the trek to the first camp, Forest Ridge, builds your confidence. Note: the first night at Forest Ridge is like an orchestra of zippers late into the night, where everyone is getting used to their gear.
· Seeing Mount Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak from The Heath. The Heath is one of the prettiest camps you’ll come to with its green grass and plains, after a challenging day of hiking where a lot of it is at 45 degrees for extended periods of time. Shira Camp is at 11,499 feet, and from this vantage point, you can see the top of Kili, Uhuru Peak, on a clear day while enjoying a hot cup of tea before dinner. It’s a moment of perspective, that in just about a week you’ll be at the top of that mountain.
· The Barranco Wall. It looks terrifying if you’re going to research the YouTube videos, but it’s actually not that bad. Still not a technical climb, this “scramble” is a 900 foot free climb, with a couple of dicey moments like when you need to take a leap of faith to catch the hand of your guide from one rock to another (don’t look down) and when you have to “kiss the wall” on a crossing that requires you to face inwards and hug the wall because behind you is a 700 foot free fall. It’s this part of the climb where you are putting your life in the hands of the guides, and it teaches you a lot about trust. The only downside is that after reaching the top, you don’t realize you have another 2-3 hours of downhill and uphill hike which is brutal before you get to the next camp.
· Reaching the summit. In all of the life lessons and time to think that you will have on your trek, it all comes back to reaching the top. You can either do a night approach, where you wake at midnight and climb for 6 hours in the dark to reach the summit around sunrise, or another route is to do a day summit, where you arrive right after lunchtime. Either way it’s an extraordinary experience to stand on top of the world at Uhuru Peak, all 19,341 feet.
· The lifetime friends you make. Your guides are extraordinary individuals, many of whom have done over 100 summits and counting. There is even one Thomson guide who will become the first Tanzanian man to reach all of the Seven Summits. The porters have their own personal stories, and it’s incredible to see the dedication and hard work ethic the Thomson team. Your guides become your friends for life. Besides your guides, your trekking companions, if you’re lucky, will become your lifetime Kili family. It takes a special personality to embark on an adventure like Kili, and you’re in good company with exceptional people.
What to Know: Arrive a few days earlier, and in lieu of staying at the airport accommodations provided on your trek, check into Legendary Lodge in Arusha. It’s important to be well-rested before your expedition up Kilimanjaro, and there is enough to see and do for 2-3 nights prior in the area like exploring the artisan market, visiting and/or volunteering at a local charity like The Plaster House and just relaxing at Legendary Lodge. You will want to savor the most comfortable accommodations prior to your climb, and Legendary has solid cuisine, big comfortable beds, warm fireplaces to cut the evening chill and the most interesting of guests who transit through Arusha before heading to Mwiba Lodge in the Serengeti or Crater Lodge at Ngorongoro Crater.
If you can, arrange for a stand up tent for your trek. It’s a necessity if you’re sharing a tent with another person, as the standard tents are impossibly small for two people to share. Make sure to bring a good sun hat, lots of sunblock and digestive medicines. Altitude brings you both closer to the strong sun’s rays even when it’s cloudy, and we’ll leave you to research the latter part of our recommendation. Set expectations that you will be uncomfortable, and by the 4thnight you will wonder how you will survive another four more. For a lot of people, it’s not the ascent that is the issue, it’s the descent that is very challenging. Make sure your boots are very broken in prior to the trek and that you have good gel pads for your feet in case you need them. You’re also more than ready to get off the mountain after the summit, as there’s no glory in the descent.
Even with knowing all this, summiting Kilimanjaro is a lifetime experience. It puts a lot about life in perspective. For many, it gives you a chance to work out whatever it is you need to on your life on the mountain. There is luxury, and there is the luxury of experience, which is Kilimanjaro.