Kerry and I are two weeks away from arriving in Africa to start our journey to the top of the highest peak on the African Continent. Excitement, anticipation, stress, worry, disbelief… all of these emotions are starting to hit me. This is going to be amazing. To begin, I will try to answer some of the common (and strange) questions we encounter.
First: “Why Kilimanjaro?”
Sometime around age 18 I became an armchair traveler. I read about amazing trips, into the wild, trekking across continents through mountain passes or rafting down rapids, through tropical jungles. I ordered every travel brochure from The World Wildlife Fund, National Geographic, and more. I read itineraries as if they were novels. I dreamed of running away to Africa to become a safari guide and live in a tent on the plains, keeping watch over the lions. Real life did not turn out to be so wild, because I always came up with an excuse to keep me at home. I did not have; the money to spend, the time off from work, a travel partner, anything to wear… it didn’t matter what lame excuse, I came up with many.
I think Kilimanjaro hit my radar about 5 years ago. It was one of those damn travel brochures, probably a National Geographic, enticing me to join a group to go on safari, climb up Kilimanjaro, and learn about the flora and fauna along the way. It was a goal oriented trip – make it to the top of Africa. It came at a turning point in my life, when I finally was embracing an active healthy lifestyle. I think that is why the idea stuck. I wanted to accomplish something big. So, when I mentioned the trip to Kerry, a good friend who is always up for an adventure, I didn’t know what to say when she agreed to go. All of a sudden I did not have an excuse for why I could not go.
I am climbing Kilimanjaro because I ran out of excuses. And once I admitted to myself that there was nothing holding me back from my dreams, then I started to hurdle the real challenges of planning a trip instead of the imaginary challenges that kept me on the couch.
Making the decision to climb Kilimanjaro was pretty easy. Finding someone to go with was happily easy. But that opened us up to having to make a ton of decisions. First up was choosing the agency. But in order to do that you need to set parameters because there are a LOT of tour operators offering to take you to the top of Africa. Kerry and I compiled spreadsheets, read books, met with friends who previously made the climb, and did a lot of internet research. All that and we narrowed it down to 20 agencies or operators!! So here are a few parameters to decide upon before you make a decision.
Budget: While we all would like to say that we don’t want to put a dollar limit on a “trip of a lifetime” most of us are forced to do just that. There are, however, certain luxuries that we do not want to do without. Kerry and I are both fortunate enough to afford certain luxuries. Agencies offer tours in price ranges from low to mid to upper end ranges. There is the ridiculously overpriced operator also, but that was easy to rule out. We decided on a price range, and that narrowed the field.
When to go: Well – dry season, of course. January to March and June to October. Originally we were set to go in September around my birthday. But circumstances beyond our control pushed that back. I think we were trying to get in 2 hikes up 14′ers prior to Kili and we were running out of vacation (damn these corporate chains). So we decided we better do this in January before we could use all our vacation days. The decision to fit this into a typical vacation period had a lot to do with choosing the agency. Most have planned trips on set dates. We ended up with an operator that tailored the dates to us, instead of the other way around. That was worth a lot of the extra price.
Length of our visit: If I listed all the places I wanted to see in Africa, I’d be there for a year. We managed to get just over 2 weeks approved by our respective managers and started to fit things in from there. Knowing our time frame made some of the decisions easier. I think we both would have done a longer hike, longer safari, or even added a destination, but time constraints prevailed.
Route: This was another tough decision that ended up in spreadsheet format to compare the time difference, tent vs hut, micro climates, crowds, vistas and sites. There are 5 routes up the mountain. The Marangu Route is reportedly crowded. The Rongai Route starts in Kenya. The Machame and Lemosho routes both pass the Lava towers. In the end, we decided on the Lemosho Route with diverse micro climates and a good success rate to the summit as it is a longer climb. The more time you give yourself to acclimate, the better chance you have to succeed in summiting. Figuring out what route you want to take will also help you land on an operator.
Safari: Can you actually go to Africa without going on a safari? We had time to tag on a short safari after the climb. Some agencies only deal in the climb, others offer “add on” safaris of varying length. We chose one that would arrange the whole trip.
Safety Record: Personnel with medical training, the right equipment, and with a good record. Not all operators met our standards and the operator’s standards were a big part of the decision.
Porters/Guides: The ethical treatment of the local people is a huge issue in Tanzania. You would be naive to believe that everyone receives the same treatment. KPAP is an organization that fights for Porter’s rights and lists agencies that operate within their standards. Needless to say, any agency we chose would have to be recognized by KPAP.
Food: I was rolling on the ground laughing as I read one climber’s blog about the brown horrible “vegetable sauce” that covered all her meals. I may not be picky, but I am hopeful that the better operators are not going to hide the food under gravy, or shove PBJ’s at me breakfast lunch and dinner.
The Final Decision
In the end all the above decisions still left us with 5 possible operators. We finally landed on Tusker Trail, influenced by their willingness to allow us to adjust our schedule and their culinary trained chefs.
We are going to start our journey in the second half of January, 2014. We are taking the 12 day Lemosho Route (climbing for 9 days). We will summit Uhuru Peak on day 7 of the climb and take 2 days to descend, camping in the Kibo crater on the night after we summit. After the climb, we start a 5 day safari up to the Serengeti during migration.
Kat and Kerry reached Uhuru Peak on January 26th, 2014. Follow their journey day by day: http://sundbergsighting.wordpress.com/