The Real Kilimanjaro

16-21 Jun 2000 - by Bob Gross

Abstract: This is the personal account of a successful two-week trip to East Africa. The goal was to climb Mount Kilimanjaro via the Shira Plateau and Western Breach.

I had never been to Africa before. Some other climbers that I know had gone there to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa. Since the summit is 19,340', and that was within my capability, during May I made my decision to go soon.

Geographic Expeditions is a San Francisco-based travel company, and I had been on their trips before, so I checked their schedule. Sure enough, their trip named "The Real Kilimanjaro" was going June 9-24. Vacation time from the office was arranged, injections for all sorts of tropical diseases were done, and finally I was on my way.

After flying from San Francisco to London-Heathrow, I wandered around London just a bit, since this was my first time there. I visited the longitude zero line at the old Royal Observatory in Greenwich (East London). My GPS receiver said it was longitude 00.00.
Royal Observatory

Then I went to London-Gatwick airport for the flight to Nairobi, Kenya. Once in Nairobi, a dozen travelers were picked up and hustled to a charter flight which took us out 137 miles southeast to a very nice safari camp at the base of the Chyulu Hills. We spent three days riding and walking and taking photos of the wild animals of the savannah (zebra, giraffe, gazelle, etc.).
Chyulu Hills
the hills

Campi ya Kanzi
Campi ya Kanzi main hut

two zebra



thorn tree detail
thorn tree, up close

Maasai Dancers
Maasai dancers

Then we flew by charter plane back toward the border with Tanzania near Amboseli National Park. At this dirt air strip, we met our mountain guide, Victor Kinyonga. We crossed the border at Namanga by bus and went to Arusha, Tanzania, which is the jumping-off point toward Mount Kilimanjaro. We started walking on the huge volcanic mountain from the forest in the west, heading up through the forest/jungle, then across the Shira Plateau, then past the Lava Tower to the Arrow Glacier camp at 16,000 feet.
Victor Kinyonga, from Tanzania

They called this "forest". I called it "jungle".

western view of Kilimanjaro
View of Kilimanjaro from the Shira Plateau

giant groundsels
giant groundsels

Western Breach with fresh snow
early morning view of the Lava Tower and Western Breach (fresh snow)

Bob on the Lava Tower
we had a good rock climb up the Lava Tower (with the Western Breach and Uhuru Peak in view)

From there, we climbed the glacier to the Western Breach. That is the gap in the crater rim, about 500 feet below the true summit (Uhuru Peak). I would describe this 2800' glacier ascent as being 70% Class 1, 25% Class 2, and 5% Class 3. The altitude did not bother me at all, but this put me in the minority of the group. I believe that I was about the only one not taking Diamox (the prescription drug for altitude) even though I carried it along.

climbing the Arrow Glacier
the group heading up the top of the Arrow Glacier

maybe a 35-40 degree slope, worst case
looking down the Arrow Glacier from the crater rim

crater rim
the crater rim and crater glacier, with Uhuru Peak overhead

Well, climbing the Arrow Glacier was a little more of a task than some of the people were expecting, so there were some sick people at the crater camp. I gave out a lot of Ibuprofen, Diamox, and Pepto-Bismol from my first aid kit. After the last night camped high, we hit it up to the summit in no time flat and the typical summit photos were plentiful. We descended 9000 feet that very day! After camp at 10,000 feet, we slogged through mud down to the Mweka Gate at 5000 feet and got a bus back to the hotel in Arusha.

June 21, 2000
the highest peak of Kilimanjaro, 19,340 feet

going down
going down 9000 feet in one day

Mweka Trail mud
the Mweka Trail was full of mud

Then after a celebration dinner, we left Tanzania, flying back to Nairobi, Kenya. We did some sightseeing and had a celebration dinner there and then caught our flights going back to Gatwick and then back home. What a whirlwind trip!

The scary part was this: On Friday evening, June 23, I was dining on zebra and crocodile meat in Nairobi, and on Saturday afternoon, June 24, I was at my home in California reading e-mail. What a cultural jump!

updated July 16, 2000

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