It’s hard to believe our time together is almost at an end!

Last Wednesday, after a relaxing night at the Zara Hotel, we drove to Rongai Gate. There we began our week-long trek. At the insistence of our guides, we hiked “pole pole,” or “slowly slowly” to conserve energy. The terrain was wooded at first, then increasingly rocky. In one of the rockier areas, Andreas possibly discovered a fossil. Our first days averaged about 3-5 hours of hiking total, with occasional breaks for water and snacks. We would leave camp around 8:30 am, with the goal of reaching the next site by lunch. Luckily, our trekking company, Zara, provided excellent and plentiful food. Lunch typically consisted of soup and bread, fruit, as well as rice and sampling of toppings. After lunch, we had time to rest – usually 2-3 hours – before our acclimatization hike. Allowing the body to properly adjust to the high-altitude environment is one of the keys to successfully completing an ascent, so acclimatization hikes were an especially important part of our daily routine. Typically, we gained about 200 meters, then hiked back down to our camp for dinner.

Our final push began on the 15th. That day, we hiked to Kibo Hut, our last campsite before the ascent. We arrived in the early afternoon, napped, had dinner and then napped again until about 11 pm. Our ascent of Kilimanjaro began at midnight. Our hope was that we would make it to Gilman’s Point, one of the three peaks, by sunrise. Led by Victor, our chief guide, we hiked up “pole pole.” The hike started out relatively easy, then became progressively more difficult as fatigue and the pressure of the high-altitude environment set in. Our guides were wonderful, however, and kept us motivated through songs and words of encouragement. One of the assistant guides, William, inspired Tudor to keep on moving even as the air grew thinner. We hikers motivated each other too, with Regan, Patrick, Michael and others entertaining people with questions and stories. Matt powered through to Gilman’s Point, despite some discomfort.

Once at Gilman’s point, the push to Uhuru, the highest peak, remained. By that point, many of us were excited but  also extremely exhausted. Devon powered on to Stella Point and finally to Uhuru, leading part of the group. The trek from Gilman’s to Uhuru lasted about an hour and a half, with different parts of the group arriving at different points. Ultimately, however, we were all united on the “roof-top of Africa” around 8 am. The entire group, as well as the guides, was impressed and pleased that everyone summited without any major difficulties.

The way down was a lot easier but not without its challenges, as the mountain is quite steep. Sophia demonstrated her skiing skills as she “sand skiied” down the dusty slopes. Back at Kibo Hut camp, we rested, then had lunch before hiking a few more kilometers down.  We used the Marangu Route, one of the oldest and most popular paths, to descend. Our next and last day, we trekked the 18 kilometers from Horombo campsite to Marangu gate. On our way down, we passed through rain forest. Clare spotted some Blue Monkeys by a river and got some good shots of them grooming.  Lauren is now looking forward to climbing more maountains.

Our hike, finished, we returned to the hotel for some much needed showers and resting. That evening, the 17th, we celebrated Stephen’s upcoming 17th birthday with a cake prepared by the hotel staff. Later, we distributed our “paper plate awards,” recalling some of our best moments together. As we head to the airport today for our first flight, to Amsterdam, we hope that everyone will carry with them fond memories of out time together in East Africa.