We had the honor of guiding three generations of the same family up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Here, the youngest adventurer in the family shares her experience of summiting Kili alongside her mother, nearly 30 years after her grandmother summited.
My grandma, Lucy, summited Kilimanjaro on a WT guided trip in 1987. So of course, WT was the one and only choice when my mom and I planned our 2020 trip to Tanzania, with the very same goal of reaching the “Roof of Africa.: While we both have extensive backpacking experience in the Sierras, we also invited my boyfriend who is more of a weekend camper and hiker. All three of us, and everyone else on our trip for that matter, came prepared for the climb with good physical condition and with great attitudes. Summiting Kili was intensely challenging, sometimes more mentally than physically, and going down was sometimes more rigorous than the climb up—but the preparation, kindness, and experience exhibited by everyone on the WT team made it the most pleasurable nine days I’ve spent without showering. I now firmly believe that having fresh coffee brought to my tent and eating passion fruit and watermelon at 18,000 feet should be mandatory for every trip, and maybe life in general.
We spent the 8-hour hiking days gaining elevation rather than mileage, which ensured that every day brought wildly new landscapes. Beginning in the rainforest, where the “pitter-patter” of rain on our tent couldn’t dampen our spirits, we quickly exited onto the heather moorland of the Shira Plateau. By now we realized the hallmark of high altitude climbing: you will (not may, will) experience all four seasons in one day. Sometimes two at once, if you can believe it possible.
As elevation tends to do, we left behind the stunning vegetation in favor of stunning views as we ascended above the clouds. Our campsite at Lava Tower on Days 4-5 of the climb afforded a beautiful view of Mt. Meru—where we had previously spent two days acclimating at the WT seasonal camp located on the mountain.
There’s absolutely no chance (in this writer’s opinion) that there was a more supported group on the mountain. Not that we had much of a chance to verify, given we quickly left the bustle of the main trails behind: whether by luck or circumstance, we were the only group at each of our campsites from Lava Tower to Crater Camp. And throughout the climb, our merry band of 10 clients witnessed the 5:1 staff-to-client ratio in action each morning the camp was packed up to move to the next location.
After two days at Lava Tower, where the extra acclimatization day was essential at 15,000 feet, we spent a night at Arrow Glacier camp (around 16,000 feet) before waking up at 5:00 am to begin our ascent on the Western Breach. It’s a non-technical, but tricky and demanding zig-zag path up frozen scree, rock, and snow. My rose-tinted takeaway: it was the most rewarding day aside from summiting. The amazing porters even did it carrying our duffel bag and all the camp gear!
After arriving on the crater floor and gaining nearly 2,500 feet in elevation up the Western Breach, we were all in good spirits and wanted to visit the Furtwangler Glacier and Ash Pit. I highly recommend this, as it is listed as “optional” in the itinerary.
We walked right up to Furtwangler Glacier and gave it a good pat, marveling at how the ground around the glacier is desert-dry. The equatorial sun (painfully bright) is so strong at such a high altitude that the ice transitions directly to vapor, skipping the liquid phase. The process is known as sublimation.
The Ash Pit, around 600 feet above Crater Camp, solidified our impression that we were standing on a dormant volcano. The view into the inner pit was vast and made us feel small. The air smelled of sulfur, and the afternoon sun made it almost unbearably hot. We would have been comfortable in swimsuits if not for fear of sunburn.
We began our walk up the last 800 feet to the summit at 6:00 am, as the sun rose and shades of pinks, oranges, and reds played over the Northern Ice Field at our backs. Despite remembering how labored our breathing was at such a high altitude, the 1.5 hours from Crater Camp to the summit seemed almost tranquil in comparison to the prior day.
At the top we cheered, some even teared up a bit, and we hugged and thanked our amazing guides and staff (Samia, Leo, Adamson, and Joffrey pictured) without whom we wouldn’t have been in nearly as good shape at nearly 19,300 feet, nor in nearly as good spirits.
And Grandma Lucy, having summited and descended to Gilman’s point on her own WT trip in 1987:
After descending nearly 14,000 feet in two days, and feeling very glad that we didn’t skimp on the quad strengthening preparation, we were whisked away to the “must-do” post-climb: a classic safari as part of the WT extension package.
Armed with all the amenities we had missed on the mountain—showers, beds, beer, and wine—we were prepared to see some charismatic mega-fauna and feel darn good while doing it. We spent our days in Land Cruisers, outfitted in wide-brimmed hats, and with binoculars or cameras in hand. Evenings were spent laughing around a campfire. In stark contrast to the few short days ago spent on the mountain, all we had to do was eat, drink, and enjoy the view. And the best part—our amazing mountain guides continued with us to guide the safari.
Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti, and all the places in between did not disappoint. There were lions—no tigers and bears—(oh my!), elephants, rhino (just one, but that was enough), giraffe, zebra, antelope, cape buffalo, monkeys, cheetahs, leopards (two!), hippos, warthogs, ostrich, and hyenas. And many, many more.
Some we saw from afar—and some others were very curious.
—Text and photos by WT adventurer Kim Kluwe, Climb Kilimanjaro! With Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti Safari Extension.