Day 0 (June 21,2015): Turkish Airlines

After a short flight from Budapest to Istanbul, we had a short layover followed by a six hour flight to Moshi, Tanzania (AKA Kilimanjaro airport).

If you like airline food, raise your hand, ok you can lower it now. If you raised your hand, you’re probably the only one. However, Turkish Airlines served us the best salmon dinner ever. By the way, if you previously raised your hand you have been travelling in first or business class, which for us mere mortals is rarely an option. Besides the food, the service was also outstanding, and if it wasn’t for the hour and a half delay it would have been the perfect air travel experience.

We arrived in Tanzania early the next morning, and after attaining our visa, our driver from Zara Tours drove us to our hotel. Did not have much time to settle, as we only had the chance for a short three hour sleep before our climb started…

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Day 1 (June 22,2015): Moshi to Naremoru Gate then Simba camp

After our short sleep, during breakfast, we finally met our team leader Macon and the guide trio consisting of Florian, Joseph, and Saidi, along with the rest of the hiking team who are members of the French Rotaract. Then, we took a bus on bumpy roads for five hours to the Naremoru Gate (altitude 1950m≈6400ft). On route, we first visited the Marangu Gate to get permission from park authorities, then followed the Kenyan border to our climb’s starting point.

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the whole group at the hotel

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From left: Macon, Joseph, Dad, and Attila

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Our very first glimpse of Kili

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The first four hours of this climb took us through a dense forest dotted with corn and potato farms. In many places, we were greeted with cheering locals and their playful (and awesome) children. Just before dark, we reached Simba Camp (2650m≈8700ft).

We really should have started this narrative with a heartfelt thanks to our guides, assistant guide, cook, and the approximately two dozen porters carrying all of the necessities (and luxuries) of this six day climb. Their work ethic and cheerful attitude were an inspiration to all of us.

Our first camp (and all the rest) included single tents for the climbers, communal tents for the supporting crew, a large mess tent, a kitchen tent,and…… two bathroom tents with portable toilets. The only thing we were missing was a massage tent with an adjoining sauna. As you can see, we were roughing it.

Day 2 (June 23,2015): Simba Camp to Second Cave (2650m to 3450m) (8700ft to 11300 ft)

After a good night’s sleep, we were awakened with a cup of hot coffee/chocolate, and a bowl of hot water to wash up. The air was crisp and the weather beautiful, but this did not even last till the end of the day. Following a calorie-rich and delicious breakfast, we started up the mountain together with three or four other groups who camped at the same site.

One thing our Tanzanian guides taught us early on, is to take it slowly: pole pole. This gradual ascent combined with Diamox enabled us to acclimatize on Kilimanjaro, with minimal effects of altitude sickness.

As we climbed, vegetation went from thickly wooded areas to smaller trees to big bushes. We reached our camp around midday, and after a hot lunch, we went on a 2-3 hour acclimatization hike, which turned out to be way more than just that. Joseph and Saidi entertained our group not only with their deep knowledge of the mountain and its plant/animal life, but also with Swahili songs. We encountered an eagle, a white-necked raven, and a little mouse, which was in the middle of the footpath but not at all bothered by our presence.

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Similar to in Nepal, the porters here carry their own stuff in backpacks and their load on top of their heads

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This guy isn’t scared one bit

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By the time we returned to the camp, it was already foggy and cold (we were in the clouds), and after a wonderful dinner (fish) we turned in for the day.IMG_5995

During the night, as the cold set in, we started to really appreciate our sleeping bags, which were rated at -40°C…

Day 3 (June 24, 2015): Second Cave to Third Cave (3450m to 3900m) (11300ft to 12800ft)

Today, our hike was relatively short but all the more strenuous. The air got thinner and colder, and the thick clouds allowed us only few occasions to get a glimpse at our destination, the Uhuru Peak. To our left, the magnificent Mawenzi was visible throughout the day.

By the time we arrived to our campsite, everything was already prepared for our arrival. It never failed to amaze us that the supporting crew of about 25 dismantled our previous camp after our departure, hiked passed us, then set up the new camp (including hot lunch) well before we got there.

We rested for about two hours, followed by another short acclimatization hike along an ancient riverbed (nowadays water only flows underground in that area). The high altitude and the anticipation of the following day’s climb set the mood of the entire group. As it was done after each dinner, Florian checked the blood oxygen level and pulse rate for each of us, and inquired about our overall health. Tonight it was a little more interesting for us as Attila borrowed the portable toilet a bit more than was “normal.” Butt, this did not deter him from taking long exposure pictures of the abundant stars and even the Milky Way, as there is absolutely no light pollution up there, which makes for a spectacular nighttime sky.IMG_6164IMG_6039

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Day 4 (June 25,2015): Third Cave to Kibo Hut (3900m to 4700m) (12800ft to 15400ft)

So here we are, at the start of one of the longest days of our trip (or even our climbing experiences). This day will not really end until tomorrow, well into our descent.

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During a strong five hour hike, we climbed a good 800 meters on decent terrain, and arrived at Kibo Hut a little after noon. This was also the day when some members of our group started showing signs of altitude sickness.

We had clear skies only for the first few hours of the day, but we were already used to this. After lunch, we were told to get as much sleep in our freezing tents as possible before our early dinner. This turned out to be easier said than done, as most of us were too excited to get any real sleep.

At dinnertime, we were debriefed by our guide trio about the plans for the next twenty hours. This included a short sleep followed by an 11 p.m. time of departure towards the summit. Needless to say, the anticipation and anxiety were very strong as we were finally arriving at the culmination of months and months of hard training and preparations.

Day 5 (June 26, 2015): Kibo Hut to Uhuru Peak to Horombo Hut (4700m to 5895m to 3700m) (15400ft to exactly 19341 ft to 12140 ft)

The alarm rang at 10:30 p.m. on June 25, waking up nobody in particular, to signal that it was go time.

Warmed up by a cup of hot tea and some biscuits, we hurriedly put on all of our thermal clothing, and armed with our headlamps, we were ready to go. In addition to our three guides, three assistant guides joined us as we headed up this final stretch into the unknown.

We were far from alone on the mountain, as many other groups commenced their ascents as well. In fact, after thirty minutes or so, as the two of us proved to be quicker than the rest of the group, we went ahead with Saidi, who surprised us by singing Swahili songs for the next 6-7 hours, to keep us focused and motivated, which was a real experience by itself!!!

The trail was relatively straight up until the Hans Meyer Cave, which has a plaque commemorating one of the first European visitors to the mountain, the Hungarian Teleki Samuel (who had a sweet mustache by the way, to which Dad’s doesn’t hold a candle…)!!

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[The next few pictures were all taken on the way down, once the sun was up, but for storytelling purposes they will be put near the paragraphs explaining them]

By this time we were completely and utterly out of breath, and early signs of nausea set in, which could not be relieved by the small snacks we forced down on a regular basis. As the temperature was already below -10°F/-23°C (without the effects of wind chill), we even struggled to keep the line to our hydration packs from freezing solid, and we failed…

Beyond the Hans Meyer Cave, the trail became increasingly difficult with endless switchbacks and zigzags, made all the more challenging by loose volcanic scree that had us slipping back a little bit after every single step. We reached Gillman’s Point (5685m≈18650ft) by 5 in the morning, by which point we were completely exhausted, and nausea turned into throwing up everything consumed the previous day by Attila, after he became dangerously disoriented. Saidi kept our lingering spirits high by his songs and encouraging words.

Gillman’s Point is located at the perimeter of the crater, and in addition to the terrain became rocky and treacherous, the wind picked with all its might, making the cold almost unbearable. However, what kept us going was the knowledge that the peak was only two hours away, and the rising sun would bring some much needed warmth to the mountaintop.

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Anybody remember a similar picture from Nepal?

After Stella Point (5795m=19012ft), we were joined by climbers from the rest of the routes- Machame and Lemosho (we were doing the Rongai route,which had joined the Marangu route at Kibo Hut). Seeing many other climbers trekking towards the peak made these final few meters much easier. Also, the sun rose by this time, giving us a breathtakingly gorgeous view of the crater to the north and the glaciers to the south.

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Finally, we were at the Uhuru Peak (5895m or 19341ft) at 7:00 a.m., Africa’s highest point, one of the Seven Summits, and the top of the World’s highest freestanding mountain. It was time for a short celebration commemorated with pictures, followed by an immediate descent to avoid prolonged exposure to the thin air.

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Even though it took us eight hours to summit the mountain, the descent back to Kibo Hut lasted only a neck breaking two and a half hours. It was very much like downhill skiing on the loose scree. It was good to see all of our groupmates eventually making it to the summit as well without major incidents.

After a short sleep in our tents and a semi reviving lunch, we hastily continued our descent to the Horombo Huts. These additional four hours of trekking flew by as not only were we exhausted, numb to our senses, but also happy with our accomplishment. A big relief was visible on all of our faces.

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Now these are some interesting plants…IMG_7911

Day 6 (June 27, 2015): Horombo Huts to Marangu Gate (3700m to 1900m) (12140ft to 6230ft) then the drive back to Moshi

As the French group had to make a same-day flight, our final descent day started at 4:00 a.m. with a big breakfast. The six to seven hour hike took us through an Alpine Desert, followed by a luscious mountain forest, which is like a high altitude version of rainforest. Because we knew we were almost there (at the National Park gate), we went at an accelerated pace for the last few hours.IMG_7911IMG_7912

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At the conclusion of our climbs, we proudly signed our names into the BIG Book at the Marangu Gate, which was followed by a short one hour drive back to Moshi. Victory lunch, then receiving our certificates wrapped up this first part of our journey. As a testament to how tired we were, we skipped dinner altogether and slept for 13-14 hours without even realizing it…

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Day 7 (June 28, 2015):  Safari Day 1: Lake Manyara

How can one come to Africa and not partake in a safari? How many times have we seen nature documentaries about the wildlife inhabiting this vast continent and wished we could see them in their natural habitat? And so it was an easy decision to include this additional three-day excursion! And boy, was it worth every minute of it!

Our guide and driver, Elias, picked us up early in the morning from Springlands Hotel in Moshi, Tanzania. The four hour drive to the Lake Manyara National Park was a unique opportunity to see the Tanzanian countryside with its many hills, busy roads, and countless speed bumps… the government’s futile attempt to tame the wild drivers negotiating pedestrians, livestock, bicycles, tuk-tuks, and way overcrowded buses.

Upon arriving at the park, we ate our boxed lunch carefully so as to not have it stolen by the numerous baboons watching us from the nearby trees. To allow us to fully enjoy nature’s beauty, our Land Cruiser (4×4, locking diffs) was equipped with a raisable roof.

Today’s relatively short safari offered us great views of hippos, impalas, flamingos, wildebeests, blue monkeys, baboons, cape buffaloes, and countless species of birds. If nothing else this first day offered us an appetizer of what was to come.

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The next two nights we were housed at the Highview Hotel, also owned by Zara Tours. These accommodations were luxurious to say the least.

Day 8 (June 29, 2015): Safari Day 2: Ngorongoro

We woke up to a drizzle and almost no visibility due to a dense fog. When we arrived to the main entrance of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, it was questionable whether we were going to see anything that day; however, Elias reassured us that at the bottom of the Ngorongoro crater (our main destination for the day) it is usually clear enough to enjoy our safari.IMG_6748IMG_7104

On the way to the bottom of the crater, we also had a chance to visit a Maasai village, listen to their welcoming song, and join them in their jumping dance. It was amazing to see how their round mud hut accommodated an entire family with separate areas dedicated to the parents, children, and small livestock. In earlier times, the Maasai used to inhabit most of East Africa, and to this day, they maintain a traditional, nomadic, lifestyle. So much so that they are allowed to live within the boundaries of many national parks and conservation areas.IMG_6806IMG_6825

As soon as we reached the bottom of the crater, we were overwhelmed by the number and variety of unique animals. Words cannot describe the herds of zebras, wildebeests, warthogs, ostriches, thomson gazelles, hyenas, jackals, hippos, and even a rhino. As if this was not enough, we had the privilege of closely observing several lions taking shelter from the sun’s heat under the Land Cruisers of many safari companies. They were literally brushing against our vehicle, and being upset as we tried to give them more room.IMG_7164IMG_7219IMG_7205

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Magnificent animals populate this special place, and even though all of us were looking for the big five (buffaloes, rhinos, lions, leopards, elephants), all the other ones were just as special to us. We took thousands of pictures and some short videos to capture them, while Elias named and told stories about each of them.IMG_7094IMG_8030 IMG_7920IMG_7051

Day 9 (June 30, 2015): Safari Day 3: Tarangire

The Tarangire National Park is well known for its elephants and baobab trees, of which we saw plenty. It was a privilege to watch a herd of elephants march towards the river to cool off, with the young ones safely positioned in the middle. The large bull was very aggressive and ready to defend the herd.

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This was a fantastic way to finish an unforgettable trip to Africa!!!