The Last 100 Metres to the Kilimanjaro Summit

Greg Snell May 31, 2012 15
Myself preparing for the last 100 metres up Kilimanjaro

Myself preparing for the last 100 metres up Kilimanjaro, photo by Greg

With 100 metres to the summit, I slowly looked up towards a small group of people standing, cheering, high fiving. They were there, they’d made it. My head sunk towards the ground and I let out a long breath. Almost there man, one step after the other, breathe. My heart felt as if it was pounding out from my chest. I could feel it through five layers and waited a few seconds to see if it would subside. It did not. At 5,800 meters above sea level I walked at the pace of an Amazonian Snail. One shuffle after the other, I pushed towards the summit. It was 6:30am and the sun was just starting to breech the horizon. My head was pounding. I could literally feel the blood pulsing through my veins trying desperately to fuel my body and brain with oxygen. Almost there man, one step after the other, breathe. With my eyes fixed strait down, I continued my pace towards the voices ahead. Step, step, stop, look. I was getting closer.

At exactly 07:00am on April 14th, 2012 I made the summit of the highest freestanding mountain in the world and completed another life goal. I stood at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro and the rooftop of Africa. Taking in a deep breath, I smiled to myself, you made it.

Slowly coming back into the moment I turned to see two of my team mates coming up behind me with our Tanzanian guide just behind them. I could see the agony of the climb in their movements.

Come on guys, we’re here, we’ve made it!”

At the top of Kilimanjaro with my mates

At the top of Kilimanjaro with my mates, photo by Greg

Paul looked up and paused acknowledging my call, then after about twenty long steps he stood at my side with Javi and Kilian just behind him. “We made it man.” I said. And he laughed with a big smile of relief. “Yup.” There were four of us who reached the summit as a team that morning. Paul, Javi, Kilian, and myself. In total our G Adventures group was made up of six people, all of whom summited Kili that morning, however, on the long 7 hour assent we were split due to various degrees of altitude sickness. Everyone pushed themselves to the limit that day and accomplished something spectacular. Achievements like this make me think that truly our world is filled with extraordinary places and extraordinary people, travel is about embracing this fact and living life to it’s fullest everyday. Making the summit of Kilimanjaro was a truly life changing experience.

Our G Adventures Mt.Kilimanjaro crew consisted of five Brits, one Canadian, two Tanzanian head guides, one assistant guide, one cook, and twelve porters. The porters carried everything. Gear, sleeping bags, food, cooking equipment, extra gear, etc. etc. These guys are troopers. Our porters were super friendly, even if we didn’t see them that often, they would smile and practice what little English they had. Most guides start out as porters on the mountain. After a few years (and many ascents) they will usually become assistant guides and then after a year, fully fledged certified Tanzanian Mountain Guides helping people reach the summit of not only Kili, but often Mt. Meru and sometimes even Mt. Kenya. World class mountaineers.

The cook was amazing and we had three, two course meals daily, even if we weren’t that hungry. Overall the food was great. We had porridge, toast, sausages, coffee, eggs, and tea for breakfast. A packed lunch most days, but in one case a hot lunch of potatoes, pasta, and steamed vegtables. The dinners were different everyday with mostly a focus on carbs to keep us topped up on energy for the next day. There was always more than enough water and you can fill up at most stops along the route. Hats off to any Kilimanjaro chefs reading this post, you rock and thank you!

Sunrise as we're climbing

Sunrise as we’re climbing, photo by Greg

Our trek was five days and four nights in total. The route is called the Marangu and is one of the fastest with the nickname Coca-Cola for those who are familiar with the mountain. The success rate is 75% and the lowest of all routes. This is because you really do not have sufficient time to acclimatize properly and are bound to feel the effects of altitude on the summit attempt. This however does not seem to deter most people, including myself. If I were to do it again I would most likely go for the Machame Route, which gives you an extra two days to acclimatize and has a less intense summit attempt.

In total it took us 7 excruciating hours to reach the summit. I was lucky and had somewhat prepared myself for the challenge. With deep consistent breathing, sugar (in the form of Snickers) and lots of water I was able to make the 5,750 meter mark (Gilman’s Point) without any real tough effects of altitude sickness. The last 150 meters though really took its toll. I was exhausted and began to feel the effects quickly. At that point I had not slept in over 24 hours, and in that time frame, hiked 17km with a 2,000m vertical gain. My muscles were weaning, especially my legs. I needed to rest. It took an hour and a half to walk the 1km from Gilman’s Point to Uhuru Peak and the summit. My head began to pound and every ten steps I would stop to breathe, then continue, stop, continue. It was an incredible challenge to walk such a short distance. One you cannot prepare for, one you must only endure.

We had an incredible group with great guides. We shared laughs, tears, silence, sickness, and overall, the determination to complete a common goal, summit Mt. Kilimanjaro and reach the rooftop of the African continent.

I believe that endurance is the key to any physical conquest. As cheesy as it sounds, the trick is to force yourself to stick with it and attack the task at hand no matter how badly your body is screaming for you to quit. Conserve your energy and go slowly. It is not a race, and even if it was, the turtle will always beat the hare. Any high altitude climbing presents a different set of challenges to that of more technical climbs. With Kilimanjaro I think the best way to reach the summit is to pick your route accordingly and not underestimate the difficulties of walking at 5,895 meters above sea level.

Almost there man, one step after the other, breathe.

15 Comments »

  1. Barbara Oram June 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    Fabulous account of an amazing experience of hope, endurance, and perseverance – well done!

  2. Climb Kilimanjaro July 12, 2012 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    I loved your story about getting to the top of the mountain.
    I am going to climb Kilimanjaro in a few months and to be honest my friend made it sound like a bit of a light hearted affair.
    I can now see that it is going to be hard work. The highest altitude I have been at was when walking to Machu Pichhu. I think I passed the 4000m mark and I well remember the feeling of having to make an intense effort to take even one single step more.

  3. Greg Snell July 24, 2012 at 7:43 am - Reply

    Hi Barbara and CK, thank you for your kind responses. The climb was an amazing life changing experience. You should never underestimate walking at high altitude. Take your time, breathe deeply and meet your personal goals.

  4. Tanzania Safaris September 3, 2012 at 5:27 am - Reply

    I’ve always dreamed of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’ll be an awesome experience for sure. But for now, I’ll just be happy seeing it as a backdrop in Tanzania. Maybe next year, I can say I’ve been there.

  5. David Horne February 21, 2013 at 6:26 am - Reply

    I enjoyed reading your account. I climbed Kili three years ago when I was 69. I did it in 3days up and one day down.Unlike most groups we climbed it inthe day light: leaving the huts at 05.30 and reaching the summit at 16.15.After Kili, the highest point in Africa, we went to Lake Assal in Debouti, the lowest point in Africa.
    David Horne
    Dunedin NZ

  6. Roni February 21, 2013 at 10:25 am - Reply

    This fairly accurately describes my climb of kili, although I had Beyonce’s ‘survivor’ on loop in my head to push myself to the top. You are right about the guides and porters, these guys are amazing. Our group was 17 and 15 made it to the top mostly because of the fantastic support of the guide and assistant guides. It is a tough challenge that requires more mental strength than physical.

  7. Runner_Dude February 21, 2013 at 11:15 am - Reply

    Nice article, I am planning to use the Machme route as well. I heard it’s the most scenic route. I read a book called Climbing Kilimanjaro, I highly recommen this book if anyone is planning to go on this adventure.

  8. Bonnie Abbott February 21, 2013 at 11:27 am - Reply

    You said: Achievements like this make me think that truly our world is filled with extraordinary places and extraordinary people, travel is about embracing this fact and living life to it’s fullest everyday. Making the summit of Kilimanjaro was a truly life changing experience.

    That is so inspiring and nearly made me cry. I did Macchu Pichu with G Adventures in 2012, and 2014 is my target for Kilimanjaro. Met so many great people and my life was changed forever because of that tour. Not to mention that my 18 year old son was with me – what an experience to share with him.

  9. Conor Cusack February 21, 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    Man, that brought back back some memories! I must agree that summit night is the most mentally and physically challenging thing I have ever undertaken! As a very proud Irishman I was delighted to reach the summit via Machame route on St Patrick’s day 2012.. Thanks to Zara Tours (through G Adventures for a life changing experience). And I raised over €6,000 for my favourite charity into the bargain!!!

  10. trailrunmarcus February 21, 2013 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    We took Lemosho which is also a 7-day route. The guides say it’s one of the more scenic routes. And by hiking 10 miles on day 2 at a relatively low altitude (Big Tree to Shira 2, bypassing Shira 1), you give yourself more time to acclimatize.
    - Marcus
    Vancouver, Canada

  11. Dani February 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    My Kili experience was a dream trip. Reaching Gilman’s Point in darkness before sunrise was magical and bouyed my hike to see dawn breaking on the final summit. 3 out of our 4 made it to the summit thanks to our guides. There was a death on the mountain during our trek and it puts everything into perspective. Reaching the summit was such a proud moment and taught me a lot about my inner mental strength. “Poli, poli” Swahili for slowly, slowly is the mantra.

  12. Greg Snell April 1, 2013 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    Amazing comments guys! I am super glad you enjoyed reading my account of making the summit of Kili. It is truly something fantastic. Cheers from El Calafate, Argentine Patagonia.

  13. Matt September 5, 2014 at 8:57 pm - Reply

    I experienced the same this past July. You described my clime to a T.

  14. Ashok Chadha September 6, 2014 at 5:46 am - Reply

    I made it to the top with my son about four years ago and it was one of the best trips for me.
    I think the key is to eat well, rest well, three litres of water per day is a must and do it slowly.
    As Dani said…I Swahili they say Poli , Poli which means slowly, slowly. Basically if you do not do it Poli, Poli you will do Poorly,Poorly!
    Good luck!

  15. Shawn September 6, 2014 at 8:49 am - Reply

    Do not underestimate Kilimanjaro! Out of our group of about 20 people (broken down into smaller subgroups each with their own guide), only about half made it to the crater ridge and only 3 of us (myself, my wife, and the most in-shape 70 year old German man I have ever seen) pushed on to the summit. This was in 2003 (I was 30 and my wife was 28) and the path was almost entirely covered in snow and ice from Gilman’s Point to Uhuru. The winds were so strong that it was struggle to keep from toppling over and the temperature was several degrees below zero. Not saying this to be dramatic but know what you are getting yourself into. Having said that, reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is one of the highlights of my life and definitely worth the challenge!!!

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