Finding higher ground
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Count Trish Sare among those who are ready to undertake a challenge. And in her case she’s done so repeatedly.
Sare, who heads BikeHike Adventures, has climbed Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, not once, nor twice but three times, reaching the highest point in Africa each time.
“Two of those treks were literally back to back,” Sare reports. “I came down from one trek with one of our BikeHike Adventures groups and the very next morning went right back up with the second group. That was tough!”
Although there are many trails to reach the Uhuru Peak on Mount Kilimanjaro, all of her treks were up the Machame route, which is regarded as one of the best routes and is approximately 62km.
Kilimanjaro is a challenging trek, mostly because of rapid altitude gain in a short duration. The trek up the Machame route starts at about 7,500 feet and the summit is 19,331 feet.
“There are many different itineraries and companies running trips and the duration of days varies between 6 to 9 days,” Sare explains. “Our BikeHike trip was a 7-day trek. That meant six days ascending and one day descending.
“On the way up, trekkers are hiking through a variety of climatic zones and landscapes. The Machame trek starts in a montane forest with tropical vegetation. Next is moorland, which brings shrubs and arid plants. Higher up is an alpine desert and this is above the tree line so there are big, wide open spaces with magnificent views. Finally comes the Uhuru summit, which can have snowfall, depending on the season.”
The trek itself isn’t technical so ropes and harnesses aren’t needed for ascending. It is mostly along trails, with trekkers sometimes scrambling over rocks, and at the top, potentially snow.
“On a 7-day trek, 6 days will be hiking up very slowly, which helps trekkers to acclimate,” Sare says. “The guides in Tanzania will always remind trekkers to walk pole, pole, meaning slowly, slowly.
We always found that those trekkers who didn’t like to walk that slowly often had the hardest time with the climb because physiologically their bodies didn’t have time to acclimate and they were not listening to the signs. Trekkers who had the mindset that they were just going to listen to their bodies, walk slowly and mindfully, often seemed to do better.
“Besides altitude, some other factors that make climbing Kilimajaro challenging are the cold temperatures, long days of hiking, multi-day camping which for some means restless sleeps, minimal appetite at the higher altitudes and a big one is the long descent in 1-2 days is very hard on the knees. We descended 10,000 feet in 1 day.”
Sare says the views from the top aren’t the best part of the experience in her opinion. The last day of the trek starts approximately 11 pm to midnight, with the goal of reaching the summit for sunrise.
“I recall not feeling great at the summit and wanted to descend as quickly as possible,” she states. “I had a quick look at the beautiful sunrise, the sea of clouds below and the lunar landscape and then quickly started my descent, all 3 times. By the way, one of the trekkers that I summited with was a cosmonaut from Austria and he described the summit of Kilimanjaro as very similar to the moon.
“But, there are many magnificent views every day of the trek, especially once one gets above the tree line. There are wide open views of the surrounding mountains. At one point Mt. Meru in Kenya is visible and there is eventually a point on the trek that Kilimajaro punches above the clouds and the scenery is reminiscent of looking out of an airplane window at a sea of soft puffy clouds in the sky.”
Being at the highest point in Africa did give Sare a sense of understandable achievement.
“It felt like an amazing accomplishment and gave me the desire to climb some of the other 7 summits of the world, which I have never done by the way,” she continues. “I’m not sure that I will at this point in my life, but I am very glad that I got to experience the feeling of standing at the top of the world on my Kilimanjaro climb. It really makes one feel how small we really are on this planet.”