Climbing Kilimanjaro

THIS is what it was all about, more than anything.

The unwavering  support, the belief, the encouragement, and the knowledge that we had THE BEST PEOPLE right there with us. 

It's unnerving to see a man carrying these massive bags, hauling ass up this mountain--passing me like he's on wheels- while smiling "jambo!"..... 

Actually, it's pretty incredible.

We climbed the longer Rongai Route. 
(via http://www.climbingkilimanjaro.com/rongai-route-kilimanjaro)

The Rongai route ascends Kilimanjaro from the north-eastern side of the mountain, along the border between Tanzania and Kenya. This route retains a sense of unspoilt wilderness and offers a different perspective on Kilimanjaro by approaching it from the north.
The topography of the route does not allow for the application of the climb high and sleep low principle and hikers generally suffer more from altitude sickness on the Rongai route compared to other routes (an additional acclimatization day is highly recommended on this route). The Rongai route use the scree summiting path from Kibo hut to Gilman’s point and descend via the Marangu route.

Day one: 
Feeling pretty excited to get going, we hiked way too fast and arrived at camp for dinner. Tents were set up and ready and food was prepared. Soup every night for a starter and man was that a soul lifter! I felt good, turned in early and slept "ok". This was Simba Camp.

These smiles didn't last long. LOL!

Day two: I was feeling pretty desperate on day two-- mountain sickness, the long 12K over rocky tough terrain, the thoughts of "WHY am I here, I'm not a "hiker"-- the doubt and the worry... It was HOT. My ears blistered from sun burn, my neck was red and felt on fire. I finally told my guide my head felt like it was going to blow off the ache was so bad. He told me I needed to cover my head completely-- as in cover the entire head and neck and ears. Immediately I felt some relief. For the remainder of the trip I covered my head. My legs felt worked but ok. 

When we finally got to Kikelewa Camp, I threw up into a ziplock gallon bag. I asked my bestie to film me in my desperation so I'd never want to climb a mountain again. LOL  SO not kidding. I lost my appetite for the remainder of the climb. This was considered "normal"--but definitely didn't feel normal. I felt like a weakling, which is a horrible feeling.  

Every time I started to feel sorry for myself all I had to do was look at a guide, a porter, a cook, any of them----and see their strength, their tenacity, their determination--and I knew I'd be okay. 

I'm striking my best Vogue pose for your viewing pleasure but mainly I want you to see how to cover your head:

Joseph sang Christmas songs constantly, and that really made me smile. He told me he "loved Christmas songs" and sometimes he didn't know the lyrics so he'd whistle. It lifted me for sure.

Leslie looking like a (cute) bug in a rug.
We've known each other since age 9/10.
She saw allllll my ugly come out on this mountain, but I know that's where it will stay. 

Day three: Better as it was a shorter hike. By this day my camera went bye bye. I put it in my large duffel and didn't bring it out again until we were off the mountain. I did take pics with my iPhone, but my energy for carrying shit was over. 
I carried in my personal pack each day first aid stuff, food, water (heavy!), extra socks, phone/money/id, rain gear, thermal, and extra sun protection items like a hat, extra glasses, etc... That was it. About 14 pounds in total, and if I were to do it again I'd lighten that. It sounds so light doesn't it? Ha.
I think this was Mawenzi camp (for two nights if I remember correctly.)
This is when I started sleeping in wool long underwear and my down winter coat, while wearing a hat and having a hot water bottle in my bag.

The summit in the distance. Photos do no justice to how enormous this mountain is. Mind you, we've been hiking for four days at this point. We are still 12K away from reaching base camp to begin the final push.

Leslie looking super strong. She was a FORCE of power, and I'm so thankful she was there. 

Above the cloud line.

Sunrise and sunset were always so beautiful.
It's moments like these that remind me there are greater forces at work here, there has to be. The beauty of this world... It's breathtaking.

I wish I could've captured it better for you. Try to understand the complete exhaustion experienced at this point.

Day four: Acclimatization and short hike to somewhere near Mawenzi Peak.
 Mawenzi  (16,893 ft) is the peak to the right in photo below. Kibo is the peak to the left, which was base camp for summit night.  
Camp at Mawenzi Tarn.

photo via Wiki

Day five: Hike to Kibo base camp. This was a long 6 hr hike across a lunar scape--nothing to see but dust and rock. It was totally wild. When we arrived at Kibo we saw what our coaches Jenny and Eric were talking about- "you won't want to stay long" is something like what they said. They were right. At 15,300+ feet it was COLD, windy, and barren. I couldn't rest the 5 hrs allotted before summit time. I just shook with intense cold while in my sleeping bag listening to music. 

Excited. Worried. Scared.  Not gonna lie. That view to the top was steeper than anything I'd seen in my life. 

Photo by Ralph  :*

MIDNIGHT: summit time.
We started out in the pitch black of night. Everyone had headlights on, bundled to within an inch of our lives. The climb was so steep I felt we might fall down the mountain if we looked up. It truly was "climbing" at this point. It took 9 hrs to get to Gillman's Point and then another 1-2 hrs over to Uhuru Peak. If I remember correctly--my brain is a little slow right now. Ha!

From website: The path then zigzags up to Gillman’s point (5 681m), which is located on the crater rim. This section is very steep with a lot of stone scree, requiring a great physical and mental effort. This is the most demanding section of the entire route. Do the Kili shuffle and move slowly. From Gillman's Point you will normally encounter snow all the way up to Uhuru peak (5895m), the highest point in Africa.

Image result for gillman's point

After making it to Gillman's, we had to traverse the crater rim. This felt like it took FOREVER. I literally was dragging my poles the last 400meters or so. Every single step I was thinking of Winston Churchill's quote :

I feel like my whole life revolves around this quote.

Even when I was running XC in high school and felt like I would die either from lack of oxygen or from embarrassment. Swimming negative splits in college. Being an outsider in dance class. Losing student council races or being the red headed step child in the Army.

 Every time it comes back to this. 

NEVER never never give up.

While climbing those 9 hrs to Gillman's, every breathe was tough, my heart rate was red-lined for over 6 hrs and I worried about the possibility of a heart attack. I wish I was joking.

I kept thinking of Yoga breathing, belly breathes to force out the C02. I kept saying "calm". I prayed to GOD. A lot.
I asked for the strength to bear this pain. I didn't ask for success--I feel there is a key difference in this. I was trying not to be selfish, though I'm sure I was. 

At 19,341 feet above sea level

I was throwing up shortly after this. I couldn't wait for the group photo- I had to get down NOW. I feel bad about that, but at the time I wasn't sure I'd make it down. A lovely friend Liz helped me first, guiding me and making sure I was okay. She was so patient. I just couldn't look back or say anything to any friends around me. I was trying to breathe. A ZARA guide named Acacia helped me down the mountain by "skiing" the scree with me, he held my pack and basically held me up every time my legs gave out. He kept telling me "Don't worry Dada (Sister in Swahili)--I'm strong like lion".  
It took a LONG TIME to get back to base camp. I think 2 hrs? It felt longer. The whole trip took around 12 hrs from Kibo to Summit back to Kibo.

Then the real kick in the gut came-- after all that we had to walk 6 miles to the next camp so we would be able to sleep at lower elevation. Talk about jelly legs! I literally cussed like a sailor, cried a few minutes (ok probably 45 min to be honest), and then packed my shit up to move out. 

Do what you have to do.

I am SO GRATEFUL to these guides and porters from ZARA Tour Co. Please use them if you decide to climb Kili, message or email me and I'll send you everything I know. They are the best. (Links below).

Daily gratitude circles helped a ton!

When you suffer a bit, I feel the reward is felt more deeply. Anyone can climb Kilimanjaro--but you must be prepared to dig really deep into yourself. You must train (more than I did please)--- and you must be willing to get uncomfortable for a long time (about a week). 

You can do it.

It's worth it.

It was the best experience I could've ever imagined, in so many different ways. 

Things I wish I'd had:
$100 in single bills for tipping (American dollars work fine here and are preferred) I had $20 bills which made it more complicated. This does not include the $450 tipping after the climb is complete. Trust me, you'll want to give them ALL your money by the end.
Higher SPF lip balm-- it's crazy intense wind and sun.
More buffs (things that cover your head and neck).
Rated zero / Arctic sleeping bag for sure- essential for summit night.
LOTS of instant sugar and electrolyte items like blocks, nuun tablets, etc...
Candy to give to the children and share on the trail with friends and guides. The power of sugar is real, especially when you can't get it.

CLIF BLOKS Energy Chews Strawberry

The people that made this trip a success:

New friends (all 163+41 of you!)

Special mention: the cooks provided us with a huge amount of food for every meal. It was super impressive and unexpected. Also we had port-a-potties that meant we didn't have to squat as much out in the wild. Super grateful for those! 

I wish I had written down the names of every person that helped me. Every time I arrived at camp a guide took my pack and showed us to the tent. All the times our water bottles were filled several times a day- which required a huge amount of work with boiling and FINDING the water. 

All the times Leslie and I were "alone" on the hike but a guide/porter/support person would then lead us until the end. (Hello Anton!) 

The support and steadfastness of Jenny. Good Lord I know I couldn't have done it without you. You were our rock!

So much more I'm sure I'll remember later. . .
For now, this is it.
In the end, I feel a great love for Africa. I did not anticipate this at all. Life back home now feels more artificial to me, important things aren't really that important to be honest. I'm reminded once again, all that matters is family- being safe, fed, sheltered, loved, and secure. That's it. 

Image result for africa

I hope you'll journey to Africa. 
Make travel a priority rather than buying "things". 

It gives such perspective on e v e r y t h i n g. 


  1. so very amazing and your truthfulness about the difficulty makes you so real and human and humble. If only more of us could experience this type of accomplishment and feel the love of the people as you did, well, it really would be a better world. so proud of you and Leslie!

    1. Thank you so much for teaching me to be a person that doesn't give up.

  2. Fantastic write-up, Nat. Hubby and I enjoyed the read so much, you paint the picture so well. I love that you could experience this with Leslie and gain strength from one another. It's so true, travel changes you...in the best ways. Congratulations and big hugs! xoxo Jules

    1. Love love love ya Jules. Thanks for reading my blabbering.

  3. I love everything about this!! You are a warrior. I love your authenticity and vulnerability and perseverance. I would never dare venture this challenge and I am amazed at your sheer strength and will to do it and then conquer it. ♡♡

    1. THank you so much for reading Elissa! Miss your gorgeous face lady! xoxo

  4. Oh Natalie, I'm always in awe of you and your commitment to being a better, stronger woman. YOU DID IT!��

    1. You don't know what this means to me Martha. Thank you so much for your support. Miss you!

  5. What a fantastic journey and trek. Congrats to completing it all, every step! I know when I have finished long wilderness trips I come out of the woods feeling like I can do anything. I imagine that's how it felt once you were 'down mountain'. Don't forget that feeling!

    1. Thank you so much Ruthann. I so appreciate your comment, and I hope I never forget this feeling. xo

  6. What an amazing adventure and challenge. You made me laugh, that is what I am like when I climb, and I keep pushing, even if it kills me, lol. Now I don't, my body isn't what it used to be and I am just happy enjoying being outside. Congratulations on making it all the way!


  7. Such an honor to climb Mt Kilimanjaro with you Natalie! I'm so happy our paths crossed and we shared this adventure. You were badass and togh as nails to push through and constantly adjust while not feeling 100% on the mountain. You so impressed me with your willingness to ask for help, receive it without ego, encourage others along the way, tenacity and strength to continue on to Uhuru, and open heart to accept all that this adventure was about (the people, the emotion, the true grit.) High fives!

  8. I love the truth you write about, the rawness of what you experienced. Its like a metaphor for life...we have to dig deep, cry, release it, move on, never give up... im so happy for you to have experienced the beauty of nature, the good we can see in people when we really look, the gratitude you came home with, knowing God was there. All That is what it's all about. You've always been rock hard tough in my eyes, and its evident through this journey, though I can appreciate just how hard it was. Im pretty sure i would have died..lololol so your tough status just increased!
    And i was wondering how it would feel to be with someone you know so well, like a bestie, and im glad that it was good...even a safe place. We need that too yeah? I could go on and on. Thank you for sharing so intimately. Sometimes writing is the best way to see in our souls. Love you so much.

  9. i like the climing sport and i will join the climbing courses. thank for sharing the more information of climbing sports and technique.


I appreciate every comment, thanks so much for taking the time. It means A LOT to me. :)