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Keh Chooi Lan
Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

Travel, World

Climbing Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa

The Star/ANN | Keh Chooi Lan | Thursday, Oct 23, 2014

Mount Kilimanjaro.

I needed a break - badly! Or else, I might turn into a screaming lunatic from the stress of being a full-time mother to my two kids (aged seven and eight).

So, I decided to travel solo to Tanzania to climb the highest mountain on Africa, Mount Kilimanjaro (altitude 5,895m), which happens to be a dormant volcano.

Zara Tours, which was recommended by a friend, offered six routes to the summit. I chose the shortest one, which was the Marangu Route. The success rate of reaching the summit for trekkers who have used their services is 90 per cent .

However, the overall summit success rate is only 40 per cent!

I started my ascent from the Marangu Park Gate (1,830m). Five burly Africans were assigned to look after one puny Asian, namely me.

There was a guide, a cook and three porters - one to carry my 15kg bag, another to carry the gas tank and one more for the food and waste.

On Day One, the trail took us through a rainforest. It was drizzling but this was nothing compared to Malaysia's tropical thunderstorms.

I was "under-dressed" in just my Gore-tex jacket and watched with amusement as the other trekkers put on water-proof pants and jacket.

Four hours and seven kilometres later, we reached Mandara Huts (2,740m). The Marangu Route provides the most luxurious way of climbing Kilimanjaro. Trekkers get to stay in solar-powered four-bedded A-frame huts with a foam mattress and pillow thrown in!

As the peak trekking season hadn't started yet, I had the hut all to myself. With so much time alone, I realised with a shock that the day I was to reach the summit just happened to be my 10th wedding anniversary! It was a date which I had failed to remember for the past nine years and which my husband had also wisely kept from reminding me - probably because he was afraid I would ask for diamonds!

Bath Water

On Day Two, after a breakfast of eggs and toast, we were on our way. There are five vegetation zones on the mountain - savannah bushland, rainforest, heath and moorland, alpine desert and ice cap.

Seven hours and 11km later, I arrived at Horombo Huts (3,690m). One of the porters brought me a basin of warm water to clean myself. This was to be my quota for the day! First, I washed my face in it.

Then, I used a small towel as a sponge to clean my body. Finally, I soaked my feet into the already murky water.

At Horombo, I developed a headache which was a sure sign of AMS (altitude mountain sickness), which is much feared among trekkers - if the symptoms are ignored, it might even cause death.

I was glad that I had opted to spend an additional night here to acclimatise, turning the journey into a six-day trek. I also felt comforted to know that from Horombo to the Kilimanjaro base camp of Kibo, there were three helipads for emergency evacuations.

The following day, my guide, Nechi, trekked with me up to a height of 4,300m where I had an unobstructed view of Mount Kilimanjaro and also the route to Kibo Huts. I imagined myself walking through the alpine desert and the Saddle.

The Saddle is the path between two smaller peaks. The terrain looked fairly flat and undulating from where I was standing, even though the gain in altitude would actually be 1,000m.

It was very windy in the Saddle and I was told that I had to be "wind proofed" for the following day's trek.

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