Kilimanjaro Trek -The very name strikes a distant chord of veneration, of intimidation, of fascination. It brings to mind a dormant volcano that stands tall and proud at 5,895 m, towering over Tanzania. It paints pictures of terrific African terrain, rainforests, rocky highlands and massive moors. It summons visions of zebras, giraffes and elephants prancing free in the wild. It’s a week-long climb to the peak, Uhuru, which you can now accomplish with Indiahikes. Indiahikes launched its first trek to Kilimanjaro in February 2015. Trekkers from India went all the way to The Roof of Africa and saw a completely different world.
The trek is an adventurous trek that needs its trekkers to be fit. The fitter the trekkers are, more fun the trek will be. The fun includes an exposure to an all new culture and while that trekkers would always cherish and want to do the trek again and again.
Author: Nisha Ann Reginald
How to get there?
Reaching Arusha, the base camp of the Kilimanjaro trek, involves the usual airport paperwork. Passport stamps and visa papers in Kenya and Tanzania are what will take up most of your time. You’ll also need to co-ordinate with local agents and drivers to use local transport. The last ride to Arusha will be by bus. Here is some information in detail.
Part-I- At the Airport
- Try to reach airport at least 4 hours before your scheduled departure. Check-in process may take long.
- Two check-in bags and one hand bag are allowed on the flight. The weight of the check-in bags and hand bag shouldn’t exceed 23 kg and 7 kg respectively; if it’s more than that, you’ll have to pay $100 extra per bag. It is not advisable to carry that much weight.
- No liquids (perfume/body spray, moisturizer lotion/gel) or sharp objects are allowed in the hand bag. During security check, take out your laptop, camera and mobile from your hand bag and keep it in a plastic tray for fast processing.
- Buy some dollars at the airport. You will need them to get a Tanzanian visa. You may need approximately $200 for the entire trip.
- At immigration, if they ask for your visa, tell them that visa for Kenya is on-arrival.
- Keep your passport and boarding pass handy at all times.
Part-II – At Nairobi
- Once you land at Nairobi airport, the transit bus will take you to the main lobby. Here, you will find two routes; one to catch connecting flights and other towards Immigration. Go towards Immigration. There are eight immigration counters. The first three counters are for citizens of Kenya; the next three are for foreigners and the last two are for those who need a visa. If you already have a visa, then go to the counter for foreigners and get your entry stamp on the visa. If you don’t yet have a visa, go to the last two counters and pay $20 for a transit visa.
- After getting visa/clearance from Immigration, proceed to collect your luggage and then walk to the Customs Clearance area.
- If you need any help, always ask for security officials and always mention that you are here to climb Kilimanjaro and you will leave Kenya right away. It works.
Part-III- Getting to Arusha
- Get out of the airport and look for your agent, who will take you to the bus.
- There are only two direct buses to Arusha. These are called Riverside Shuttle. One at 8.30 am and another at 2:30 pm. This is the cheapest and most convenient way to reach Arusha.
- You can book the buses online. But if you haven’t, there are many counters outside the airport for transportation. It usually costs $25, but they may take extra booking charges. There is a nice café close to the booking counters, where you can have a meal. Buy bottled water here since you’ll need water for your journey. Drinking water from unknown sources is not advisable. Once the bus arrives, the agent will come again and take you to the bus, which will be waiting at the lane opposite to the airport.
- Don’t buy Kenyan Shillings here, you don’t need them. Use only dollars.
- Try to get a window-side seat and look out to see the changes in landscape. The roads are really good and you will have nice journey.
- In case your flight time doesn’t match the shuttle timing or if you miss the shuttle, then take a cab to Nairobi for $25 and then take a shared van to Namanga for $10. From Namanga, take another shared cab to Arusha for $5.
- After two hours, the bus driver will stop for a tea break at a cafe 3 km before Namanga (the border of Kenya and Tanzania, also the place to get your Tanzanian visa).
- Once you reach Namanga, your driver will help you get the visa. This is how the process goes.
- First, show your Yellow Fever Vaccination card at Port Health Office.
- After checking your documents, the PHO will send you to the Immigration Department.
- There are three counters here. Look for the one catering to foreigners and show your passport and Yellow Fever Vaccination card. The person at the counter will take your photo and finger print readings and give you the exit stamp on your visa.
- Now, you have to cross the border. Come out from the Kenya Immigration Office and take a right turn and walk 50-60 m. A small climb will take you to a road, from where you have to take another right turn. After this right turn, you are in Tanzania. Walk for another 40-50 m and you will find the Immigration Office of Tanzania on your left.
- Repeat the process that you went through at Namanga. First, show your Yellow Fever Vaccination card at PHO. They will give you a pink colour form to fill out for immigration purposes. Take that and walk to the next white building on your left for final approval and visa.
- You will see three counters. Go to the last one and ask for another white form from the immigration officers. People from outside Africa need to fill two forms, pink and white.
- After filling the form, go back to the counter with your passport and $50.
- The immigration officer will ask your purpose of visit; tell them you are there to climb Kilimanjaro. He will take your photo and finger print readings and give you the visa.
- Now, you are done with paperwork. Hop onto the bus again and head to Arusha, which is an hour’s drive away.
- Any bus that you take will drop you at Mezaluna, the Bus Terminus. If you have an agreement with the agent to drop you at your hotel, which is 3 km from the bus terminus, then he will provide you with a small car for transportation from Mezaluna. Please clarify this with the agent at the airport before boarding the bus. Otherwise, take a cab from Mezaluna for around $6 and reach the hotel.
Note: Always ensure you only go to government authorised offices. Avoid approaching others on the streets, even if they offer you good deals.
Kilimanjaro Trek Guide
The first day of your trek is long. You have to start early from Arusha to reach Kilimanjaro National Park. You have to go through several official procedures before you start the trek.
- It’s a three-hour-journey from Arusha to Londorrosi gate if you want take the Shira or Lemosho route. Start by 8 am so that you reach park gate by 11 am.
- Around 15 minutes before reaching the park gate, you have to pay a forest entry fee at the forest check gate. You will see Alpine forests on your left and farmlands on your right.
- After reaching the park gate, the first thing you have to do is register yourself with the park authority. Try to memorise your passport number; you have to write your passport number every day at each camp.
- After registration, the porters’ load will be weighed; it shouldn’t exceed 20 kg.
- After that, park officials will check the porters’ licences and finally check their backpacks to ensure they are carrying necessary clothing and equipments.
- Lastly, you have to pay the park entry fee via a specialised card issued by the registered bank. Before coming to the park gate, you have to deposit the money (only in dollars) in the bank with the help of local agency. The local agency already has a card issued by TANAPA (Tanzania National Park), which has to be credited with the dollars.
The whole process at park gate may take more than two hours. After all the proceedings, a half hour’s drive will bring you to the Lemosho gate. At the gate, another park officer will weigh the porters’ bags again to ensure that everything is in order. After this, you’ll finally start the trek! Don’t get tensed if you find that you are starting your trek only around 4 pm.
You have only two hours of trekking on Day 1. Before sunset, you’re likely to be inside your tent.
Final climb at Kilimanjaro
All routes on Kilimanjaro merge at Barafu, the summit camp. You will see a great number of trekkers that day. This number can touch close to 500. The general tendency of trekkers on the last day on Kilimanjaro is to start at midnight. If you start at 12 in the night, with an average speed, you can reach the summit latest by 7 am. It takes a maximum of 7 hours to reach the summit. If you don’t want to be stuck in a line of 500 trekkers in middle of the night, then you can start late.
From Barafu, start ascending towards the hill towering over the camp. A half hour’s march will take you to the base of the hill. Start ascending with gentle speed as the climb will take 45 minutes. In between, you have to do a little bit of scribbling on a rock that is 25-30 ft tall.
Once you reach the top of the hill, the trail becomes gradual for the next 35 minutes. Barafu has three camping grounds – side, middle and upper. This gradual walk will take you to the upper camping ground. Leave the upper camping ground on your right and climb the next four hours straight up to Stella Point. Rest once every hour. You will find many boulders en route where you can rest. Just before reaching Stella Point, note that the gradient has turned steeper.
A walk for 2 hours through the moorland will take you to the forest of Erica Robera. Here, you will see camps down the slope. You will feel a change in the atmosphere. There’s more oxygen. It will be easier to breath. From this point, walk for around an hour and you’ll reach the camp. As usual, register yourself and finish your tiring and glorious day with a cup of coffee.
Next morning, wake up a little late, not before 8 am. The hike from Mweka Camp to Mweka Gate will take a maximum of 3 hours. The rain forest after rocky terrain is a welcome change. A walk of two and a half hours will take you down to the rescue road. Follow the rescue road for next half an hour and you will see vehicles waiting for you. That marks the end of your descent.
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Get trek fit!
The secret to ascending any trail lies in building your cardiovascular endurance. You can begin by jogging everyday. Ideally, you should be able to jog 4 km in 20 minutes before the start of the trek. It takes time to be able to cover this distance in the given time. Start slow and increase your pace everyday. Swimming, cycling and stair climbing without too many breaks in between can help too. Strength This is another area you should work on. You will need to build strength in your muscles and in your core body. You can do some squats to strengthen your leg muscles. Do around 3 sets of squats, with 8 squats in each set. Apart from this, you can add planks and crunches to your work out.
Another aspect that will help you trek comfortably is flexibility. For this, you can do some stretching exercises – stretch your hamstrings, quadriceps, hip flexors, lower back muscles and shoulders regularly. Carrying a backpack, however light, can become a strain after a while. These exercises will help you to be in good shape before the trek. Working out indoors
If you can’t go out and jog because of time and space constraints, here’s a video you can use to work out indoors.
What to pack?
No, stuffing it all in isn’t the right way to do it Packing a backpack correctly saves precious time that you might waste trying to find your things later. It is wise to spend some time on learning what really goes into packing a backpack.
What should I pack? On a trek, you only get what you take. Something as simple as a forgotten matchbox can cripple your cooking plans throughout the trek. So, it’s essential to prepare early and prepare well. To begin with, make a checklist. While shopping, remember this thumb rule – keep it light. “Every item needs to be light. This ensures that your backpack, on the whole, stays light,” says Sandhya UC, co-founder of Indiahikes. Balancing out heavy items with light ones isn’t going to have the same effect as having all light items. “Always opt for good quality, light items,” says Sandhya.
How much should my bag weigh?
“Your backpack for a weekend trek should weigh between 8 and 10 kg,” explains Arjun Majumdar, co-founder of Indiahikes, “To break it down, your tent should weigh around 2.5 kg, your sleeping bag, around 1.5 kg, and the ration, stove and clothes should constitute the other 5 kg.” The best way to plan is by concentrating on the basic necessities – food, shelter and clothes. Gather only those things that you’ll need to survive. Do not pack for ‘if’ situations. “That’s one of the common mistakes that people make – packing for ‘if situations’. It only adds to the baggage that you can do without on a trek,” says Sandhya.
One good way to go about it is to prepare a list of absolute essentials. Start with the most essential and end with the least essential. That way, when you feel you are overshooting the limit, you can start eliminating from the bottom. Another tip is to be smart while packing clothes. Invest in light. wash and wear fabrics. “Replace a sweater with two t-shirts,” adds Sandhya. Layering is the mantra when it comes to trekking. Refer to Sandhya’s clothes list to pack smart.
How to pack The thumb rule for this one is to eliminate air spaces. Make sure that everything is packed tightly, especially clothes and jackets, as they tend to take up maximum air space. Put in all the large items first. Then squeeze in the smaller ones in the gaps. This ensures minimum air space. A good way to pack clothes is by using the Ranger Roll method.
Where to pack Bottom Sleeping bag: Make this your base layer. Sleeping bags tend to be voluminous, but do not weigh much. They’re perfect for the bottom of the bag. Tent: Just like the sleeping bag, even tents are voluminous and light. Keep the tent poles separately and place the fabric at the bottom of the backpack. Middle Heavy jacket: Roll up the jacket in a tight ball and place it in the middle of the backpack, close to your back. The middle region of the backpack should always have the heaviest items. You can store other things like ration or mini stoves in the middle. Other clothes: Roll other clothes and place them in the remaining space, to fill air gaps.
Top Water: Water, although heavy, needs to be easily accessible. So put it in the top most region of your backpack. Medicine box: This is another component that you wouldn’t want to be scavenging for when in need. Poncho: It could rain at any time in the mountains. So, ponchos should be accessible easily. Also, having a waterproof poncho at the top of the backpack provides additional waterproofing to items in the bag.