J.D. Baldwin's Kilimanjaro Diary - Start Page


This is my diary of my trek up Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is based on pen-and-paper notes I took during the trek, plus my own recollections when building these pages from notes. For the most part, the notes I've written here are expanded on notes I took with date and time stamps in my actual paper journal. This relationship breaks down a bit at the end. All photos are taken by me unless otherwise noted. Other members of the party, including the staff from Zara, are identified by first name only, though their pictures appear here as well. I have gotten permission from all of them for this. I should note that although the pictures and content of this diary are published on the web and intended for noncommercial use (i.e., reading by you), that does not mean you the reader have a license to appropriate any of this content for other use, noncommercial or commercial.
I have been living in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (with some side trips to Nairobi, Kenya and some locations in rural Tanzania) since late September of 2010. The (large multinational) company that employs me has assigned me to a local non-governmental organization (NGO) to work on public health issues here. This isn't really the place to go into detail about that.
It wasn't long after I arrived in Tanzania that I started realizing that just about every foreigner I was meeting, whether living here for an extended period or just passing through, was climbing Kilimanjaro. For a while, I shrugged this off as a bit crazy-sounding. 19,000'-plus is no joke, just based on the altitude. Over the month of October, though, I began to think it might make a nice end goal for my fitness training, something to focus my efforts. I began to think it might be possible. Then I began to think I had a really good shot. Then I began to be driven by the idea.
I talked to every veteran of the climb I could find, along with others who were planning climbs. Finally, in late January of 2011, I began looking into actual bookings. I settled on Ultimate Kilimanjaro because they are a U.S. based company with a pretty good reputation. They use Zara as a local operator for their tours, and Zara also has a good reputation. After a great deal of consideration, I decided to go for the longest and most difficult of the "normal" routes: Lemosho. (Umbwe is said to be the hardest official route, but there aren't many tours available to do Umbwe, and Lemosho has better views anyway.) Unfortunately, the only dates that work for me were marked as fully booked on Ultimate Kilimanjaro's website. I wrote them and asked to be wait-listed in the event of a cancellation. They wrote me back immediately and said they could squeeze me in to an existing tour if I wanted to book, no wait-listing required.
I thought about it for 48 hours and booked it. The cost of the tour, which included pretty much everything, was just under USD $2,000. I added a couple of items of equipment rental and of course I had to pay for some meals and other incidentals myself, but the booking cost and $320 for staff tips (which I will describe at the end of the diary) constituted 95% of the cost of the whole thing.

The Leg

I'm adding a note about my right leg because I realized I made a couple of remarks about how it was holding up on the hike. You can read the whole ugly story here, but be warned the surgery link contains a couple of graphic pictures.
If you don't feel like following those links, here's the summary: Basically, I went a little too fast around a hairpin curve on a mountain bike trail, put my right foot down and snapped its fibula into several pieces, also sustaining a small break in the tibia and a bunch of deep ligament damage in the ankle.
Here's what the inside of my leg looked like on the evening of July 10th, 2009:
And here's what it looked like after surgery a couple of weeks later:
A few months later, they removed one and a half of the long screws (one had cracked) and now this is what the inside of my leg looks like:
Inside of my newly broken leg
Leg full of hardware
What my leg looks now, on the inside

By the way, here's my dog, Juniper, standing on the spot where it happened:

Juniper standing on The Spot

Doesn't look too hairy, does it?  It's actually a little embarrassing.  There are lots better places in that park to wreck.

The Mountain

This picture is "borrowed" from the Ultimate Kilimanjaro site, who "borrowed" it from Google Maps:

Kili peaks and routes
It depicts the three peaks of the mountain one thinks of as "Kilimanjaro": Shira (a volcanic ridge on the west side), Kibo (the big central peak, a volcanic cone) and Mawenzi (a smaller volcanic cone on the east side). Mawenzi is the snow-capped peak near the "M" in "Marangu."
You can learn way more than you care to know about Kilimanjaro at its Wikipedia entry, which has some pretty decent imagery as well. To summarize, Kili (specifically, Kibo) is a dormant (not "extinct") volcano that formed around a million years ago and last erupted around 360,000 years ago. Its last recorded "activity" (meaning rumblings and emissions of hot gas) was about 200 years ago. It still vents gas, which you can observe if you go into the crater. Normal tours do not go to the crater, but some crazy people do sign up for excursions that involve spending a night there. Yeah, have fun with that.
Here is Ultimate Kilimanjaro's map of the routes with Lemosho and Mweka highlighted.  (Lemosho is the way up; Mweka is the way one descends off the mountain.)
Ultimate Kilimanjaro's map of Lemosho/Mweka
Read about my own excursion on the Lemosho trail by starting with the "Prelude" link below. If you're thinking of doing this yourself, here is the Executive Summary:
  • Don't do "Coca-Cola" / Marangu (more about this later), do a longer route like Lemosho/Shira or Machame or even Rongai.
  • It's hard.  It's really hard.  But if you're in at all decent shape, you can probably do it.  I say "probably" because it doesn't come down 100% to just fitness - there is really no way to predict who will and won't develop altitude sickness (more about this later as well).
  • If you do a Kilimanjaro trek, get good equipment and check and re-check it, then re-check your re-check.  You can't buy a new sleeping bag on the mountain.
Enough background.  Read:

Prelude to the climb

Or go directly to:

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7 (summit day)
Day 8
Post-climb wrap-up

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